Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Review: The Book of Strange New Things



What a strange couple of months. I read 10 books in June. In July I read 2, and I’ve only read 2 again so far in August. Somebody it seems has stolen my reading mojo. I plan to steal it back though pretty soon – I’ll have little choice; I move into my new house in a few days but my internet and Sky television and in fact most of my furniture will all be a week or so behind me. I figure that if all I have in my (shiny new) house for a while is my bed and my Kindle then I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on some reading and consequently some blogging. 

For now though I really want to talk about Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things because oh my goodness did I love that book. SO MUCH AMAZING YOU GUYS. I’ve wanted to read it since it’s hardback publication, but I didn’t because well, we all know I have this thing about hardback books especially the larger ones like this one. I could have got it on the Kindle I know, but I didn’t and I don’t know why other than sometimes I just kind of have this instinct to have an actual physical copy of something in my hands. Sometimes I just feel way ahead of time that an ebook just won’t cut it. So, I waited like the patient girl I am (and stop laughing right now because ‘patient’ is totally an accurate description of me, thanks very much) for the paperback publication.

And then I fell in love.

This is the kind of book that makes you feel things. All the things. It’s the kind of book that gets under your skin and gets you right in the gut and you’re just aware the whole time you’re reading it that you’re reading something amazing and then you finish it, and you kind of don’t know what that is. Does that make sense? Like, I finished this book and was totally and utterly bowled over but not I’m here and I’m trying to explain why. And I kind of don’t know how.

Faber is an extraordinary writer, or rather his writing in The Book of Strange New Things feels to me to be extraordinary; I haven’t actually read his other stuff. Yet. This book makes me want to, so badly. His use of language is so stunning it makes me want to cry a little (seduce me with pretty words), the imagery is beautiful, the characterisation breathtaking, the whole thing just out-of-this-world kind of good. AND THAT IS NOT EVEN A PUN.

Buy why Josephine, I hear you ask; don’t just tell us it’s fabulous, tell us why.

ALRIGHT THEN.  

Well. I loved the whole premise of this and what Faber did with it. Looooved it.  This book was (is) an incredible exploration of religion, one that I think would appeal to you whatever your beliefs – I recommend this book to you whether you’re a firm believer in any kind of higher power or whether you’re an atheist. I do. I just want you to read it, whoever you are. Go forth.  The way Peter goes about teaching the inhabitants of this planet about God and Jesus – they’re so receptive and so hungry for knowledge that it’s almost too easy - juxtaposed alongside his wife, left behind at home with nothing but her own faith to guide her and struggling, is so damn clever. So clever and so moving and so good.

It’s a book a refreshingly flawed protagonist - and I won’t lie here, there were at times I wanted to get hold of Peter and shake him oh my goodness - and also it’s a really clever take on the whole sci-fi thing. Science fiction is a thing here, obviously, and it’s a big thing because let’s be real the very premise of this book is a dude trying to spread the word of God to aliens, but it’s not the thing, you know? This isn’t a book about aliens or about space travel or any of that stuff, not really. It’s not a book you should shy away from because ‘science fiction is not your thing.’ It’s a book about human nature, about morality and faith and relationships and love with an ending that will make your heart stutter in your chest.   

The ending. 

Oh my goodness the ending. I had a conversation with Jen whilst walking along Regent’s Canal with a latte when I was about halfway through this book, and that coloured I think, the way I looked at certain elements of the whole thing, specifically Peter’s relationship with his wife Bea who has been left behind on earth but you know, I think the ending of this book would have gotten me in the same way regardless. It hit me like a sucker punch, a beautiful beautiful sucker punch.

I believed in this book. I did. And it’s set on another planet. This guy is telling bible stories to a species without faces who speak a language he can’t even begin to comprehend and I believed in it. Every word. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to shove it in the face of everyone I know and say READ THIS DAMN THING WILL YOU and if that doesn’t tell you something, well, I’m afraid I don’t know what else to do. 

It is, quite simply, The Book of Strange New Things.




Monday, 27 July 2015

Review: The Beach Hut



Oh but I’ve been a terrible blogger this month. Terrible. I’m not going to make any excuses because that would be totally pretending people actually give a shit, which you know, it’s just a blog and I’m pretty sure nobody does. I am however going to spend a quick few minutes right now talking at you about a book I read a couple of weeks ago that I totally should have already reviewed and haven’t because I’m terrible.
I don’t mean to be terrible, obvs. Sometimes you just need to switch off your brain and watch Pretty Little Liars and rewatch House and do a happy dance over all the Klaine in season 6 of Glee, you know? (always such a sucker for the pretty boys in love.) I’ve been all about the television in July. I blame Netflix really, it’s just too easy to watch episode after episode after episode. I wonder how many collective hours have been lost to binge-watching since Netflix became a thing?  It’s a thing both terrible and fabulous.


I haven’t just laid in my bed watching American tv shows and stagnating though, I promise. There’s also been house-hunting (both terrifying and exciting) and weddings (beautiful, with books as favours, books as favours) and birthdays (always fun times) and all manner of other fun stuff. We hired out a beach hut for my Mum’s 60th the weekend before last which was all kinds of glorious and segues quite nicely into the whole actual point of this post. 



Which is this rather excellent book that people really ought to be reading.

It’s called The Beach Hut (I know, and I didn’t even do that intentionally. SERENDIPITY) and it’s by the marvellous Cassandra Parkin who wrote The Summer We All Ran Away which I read and loved last year. First things first, you can get hold of a copy of The Beach Hut right now, and you should because it’s really really good. Really good. 



S’about a brother and sister, Finn and Ava, who build an (illegal?) beach hut on the Cornish coast, much to the chagrin of the landlord of the local pub, Donald. Finn and Ava have this backstory that makes your heart hurt, Donald’s a bit messed up –his wife has died and he’s really not at all sure how to handle his teenage daughter, and she in turn has stuff of her own going on – it’s a book about life I think, really and the whole thing is actually kind of beautiful.

In a similar way to The Summer We All Ran Away (again, grab a copy because holy smokes so good), The Beach Hut moves between the past and present pretty much chapter by chapter. I loved this with The Summer We All Ran Away and I love it again here. It’s quite a popular narrative device at the moment it seems, the split timeline. I am reading so many books that tell me what’s going on via then and now. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This is one of those times that it absolutely does. It also moves really seamlessly between the viewpoint of this character and that and lets be real here, all these different voices and all these different times and all these threads to all these stories. It could quite easily have been a shitstorm. It’s not though, it works, and it works really really well.

Also also, Cassandra Parkin has a knack for creating a cast of characters that you believe in and relate to and really freaking care about. I mean, it, the people in this book, I just love them so damn hard. Finn, I think, is the one I love the most, with his attitude and his all-encompassing love for his sister and his sense of adventure and his book of fairytales. I would like him to be my boyfriend. WHOOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD? Also, Alicia: Cassandra Parkin is absolutely bang on with her portrayal of mixed up teenage girl who wants to be simultaneously child and adult and her relationship with her Dad is just so bittersweet – that’s a relationship that I understand so well, the fragile one between father and daughter as daughter moves beyond ‘little girl’ and into something else entirely. I am grateful every day for the fact that my Dad and I got through that time (relatively) unscathed. It’s not just that relationship that’s so on point here though you know? The Beach Hut is a clever exploration of relationships and of love: sibling, familial, romantic and it draws you in and holds you as the story slowly unravels and HOLY SMOKES does it unravel. There’s some stuff going on here that will grab you like an undercurrent and throw you sideways. In a good way, not in a seawater in your face feel like your drowning kind of way. Maybe that was a bad metaphor; it sounded better in my head. Anyway. What I am trying to say is that there’s a sense of immediacy to Parkin’s writing which I absolutely adore; I can not get enough of her words and you know, I totally love it when a book grabs me and holds me like that, makes me feel like I’m in another place. That’s what this book does.


Fun fact that I also really love: I read that the beach that this book centres around is based on Perranporth in Cornwall. Yep, that totally makes me do a happy dance. I love Perranporth. I’ve spent many a happy hour on that beach, drinking rose lemonade and reading and there used to be a restaurant just off the beach called The Tin Fin that did the best calamari I ever tasted. I don’t think it’s there now which is a shame. Anyway, I digress. This is a gorgeous book, I loved it and I really can’t wait to see what Cassandra does next.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Review: The Quality of Silence





Here I am, endlessly annoyed that Goodreads does not have the half star option. 3 or 4 stars? WHICH WAY TO GO?

I absolutely loved Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel Sister, as in could not put it down to even eat, read it in one sitting and promptly shoved it in the faces of everybody I knew. I loved it. I loved it so much that when her second novel Afterwards didn’t measure up I kind of wanted to cry a little bit. I had wanted to love it so very badly, and just didn’t. & what a shame, I thought, if Rosamund was just a one hit wonder. Didn’t stop me though, from doing a happy dance earlier this year when I heard that her third novel was due for publication in the summer. That goes to show I guess just how much I really did enjoy Sister – enough that not even a disappointing second novel could dampen my excitement at the revelation of Something New.

The Quality of Silence was published last Thursday; I started it last week and finished it last night. &, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Let’s place it, I think, somewhere between not-as-good-as-Sister but not-as-disappointing-as-Afterwards.

Let’s say, that actually, I really liked it. It’s just, I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to like it, and that makes me sad.

Probably I shouldn’t have been excited about it as I was; probably I shouldn’t have got caught up in all the pre-publication excitement (this book was everywhere I looked, if you missed it then clearly you live on Mars); probably I should have thought to myself ‘now Josephine remember how you felt the last time,’ but I didn’t. I did none of those things. I bought into the crazy and I got caught up in all the ‘SISTER WAS SO GOOD OMG NEW ROSAMUND LUPTON’ thus setting myself up for disappointment. 

That’s totally my fault though, because this book was Good. It was good. It was chilling and haunting and very well written – Lupton’s writing is extremely evocative and her desecriptions of the desolate bleakness of an Alaskan winter made me cold to my bones – figuratively speaking not actually: I read this in plus 30 degree temperatures last week, the only thing would that would have made me cold to my bones would have been an ice bath. It’s fast paced but slow-moving and it made me feel kind of…quiet. I don’t know what that means. WHY CAN I NEVER DO WORDS?! It’s a desolate fragile kind of a book I think, it’s cold and lonely and isolating, much like Alaska I guess which, well, it’s pretty bleak because winter in Alaska is not a thing you go into unprepared. Like, ever. It is the very opposite of A Nice Time. It is darker than a dark thing and colder than a cold thing and really, not a place you take a ten year old with just some clothes you got from Go Outdoors or some such. BE PREPARED.



The problem was, that in the beginning at least, it just didn’t grab me. When I read I kind of want to get lost for a while, I want the real world to fade away into nothingness, so that the only world that exists is the one within the pages. That totally happened with Sister. It didn’t seem to be happening here. I mean, when I was reading it, I liked it. The writing is good, and the story engaging, but, when I had to stop reading I was kind of fine with that and I wasn’t itching to go back to it. Example: I was babysitting on Saturday night. Babysitting is always excellent reading time; I knew the girls would all be in bed for 8.30, which gave me approx. 4 hours of uninterrupted book. I could totally have finished this baby, I should have finished it with time to spare. But I didn’t. I took my iPad instead and watched a few episodes of season 6 of House – the Huddy buildup, you remember, be still my heart - I guess that says it all doesn’t it. I decided to rewatch an old tv show rather than finish this book and I was very sad about that fact. You don’t even know much I wanted to love it.


 (Lookit them. Still not over it, will never be over it. 'I always want to kiss you.' BRB sobbing forever.)


And then - back to the review despite the distraction of Hugh Laurie and his face -  it was also pretty unrealistic. I mean, I’ve watched Ice Road Truckers – everyone’s watched Ice Road Truckers, right? It’s not just me – and I know that driving those mahoosive trucks across frozen Alaska is not easy. You don’t just rock up in Alaska one day and think, yep, I’m gonna drive a truck across a frozen lake now, catch you later. Unless it’s Top Gear. That’s just not a thing that happens. You can’t just grab a big fuck off truck and go for it you know? People die doing this job, people with actual years of experience and knowledge die. I don’t see how, then, Yasmin could just hop on a plane from England with her ten year old Deaf daughter, harness a truck and set off in these awful conditions across a frozen country. & I know that sometimes you have to suspend the belief and I get that people will be saying ‘but it was so beautifully written, so haunting and emotional and gripping and tense so why does that tiny little detail matter’ but it does because without that tiny little detail the whole thing falls apart and that tiny little detail, well, I couldn’t get past it.  Perhaps it’s me – and I’m not going to lie, I don’t even know how to open my bonnet. I can’t change a trye, I’ve never even attempted an oil change and I only park in car park spaces that I can drive straight through, I’m not driving across any kind of frozen anything in the dark – but I just, it didn’t feel real, that Yasmin would attempt it, never mind manage it and it bugged me the whole way through.


All of that said though, and despite the fact that the first 40 percent of the book took me almost a week to drag myself through, I read the second 60 percent in two hours last night. Two hours. I don’t know if it was my state of mind, if I was just in a better place for this story, or whether the book just got that much better, but it was like something magically slotted into place and I was turning pages and my heart was racing and I just thought this, this is what I wanted from this book. I even did Ruby's sign for hurrah, I was just that pleased about it. I mean, the whole Yasmin driving this truck through an endless night still niggled at me, but less so somehow because everything else was so much more vivid. The descriptions, of it being so cold that your eyes closed shut, of the howling winds and the snow that could be knee deep in minutes made me snuggle further under my duvet and those two blue headlights that Yasmin can always see in her rearview mirror, slowing and stopping whenever she does but always staying the same distance away made my heart actually race. Suspense, that’s what Lupton is good at, that’s why Sister was so epically good and perhaps why this book took so long to get going: the set-up and  the back story, it was nowhere near as gripping as this race (chase) away from the unknown towards God even knows what. 
It’s kind of funny actually, because even once the book gets going, even when I was flying through it with my heart in my mouth it still wasn’t an ‘in your face’ kind of thriller,  it was more….quietly compelling. Ooh, I like that, yep, that’s what we’ll go with: quietly compelling: layer upon layer of slowly building tension, the almost-terror of being utterly utterly alone and utterly utterly helpless and desperately aware that nobody will ever hear your calls for help is never quite articulated but the whole thing is quietly chilling all the same AND IT'S SO GOOD. Nothing particularly dramatic really happens the whole way through and yet still you find your hands curling into fists and your breath catching, just a little bit. There’s a lot to be said for what goes unsaid here: the isolation, the fear, the way everything that wasn’t inside that cab with them felt like a threat, it was that that built the tension; Lupton’s incredibly atmospheric writing rather than car chases and gun fights and loud confrontation. It was quiet, because Alaska is quiet and Ruby is quiet and it was so so effective.

There’s also this really lovely secondary story of Yasmin’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby. Ruby’s deaf and communicates using Sign Language or an app on her laptop that converts her typed words into speech and vice versa and you want to know a thing? It’s really difficult to talk using sign language when you’re in the darkest place in the world. Yasmin and Ruby’s relationship is complicated and touching: Ruby’s obviously much more comfortable with being Deaf than her mother is, and the way they quietly lock horns over Yasmin’s need for Ruby to ‘use her words’ and ruby's reluctance to use her 'mouth voice' at all made my heart hurt. Beautifully done Rosamund Lupton, high five.



I was a teeny bit disappointed in the ending. It felt rushed and it wasn’t what I expected and I don’t know, I mean I guess I had major trouble suspending reality with this book, because I had exactly the same issue with the Big Twist as I did with the whole Ice Road Trucker element: it was just a bit too far-fetched, it went just a tiny step too far what with – oh, actually that would be a spoiler wouldn’t it. Imma shut up about that. 
(Explain to me though how I can read books about post-apocalyptic futures, or about magic and dragons and faeries and trees that come alive and not even question the reality of the situation even one time but I struggle with a book where someone has to drive a truck across a lake. What is wrong in my brain?!)

Anyway, in a nutshell, this still is no Sister but as long as you go into it knowing that then I think it’s defo worth a read and since it's out now, you can go grab a copy.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Time and Place Book Tag



I absolutely do not want to be at work today. I want to be home, watching Wimbledon. Today is a good day on Centre Court: Venus and Serena, Andy Murray, Roger Federer. Oh but how I wish I was not at work. Le sigh. I am at work though, and as such I shall try to cheer myself up by talking about books.


So. Last week Jen created The Time and Place Book Tag over on her YouTube channel.

You can watch her video and find out what it’s all about here and you should because Jen is awesome. 
 

If you can’t do that til later, then that’s cool: in a nutshell, the tag is basically what it says – an excuse to talk about ten books that remind you of a time and/or a place. Because that’s totally a thing, right? We all have those books that remind us of this holiday or that break-up, being that age or friends with that person. Books that you only have to hear the title of to be transported back to a whole other time or place, even if that’s not necessarily a good thing. & because Jen tagged me, these are mine. 


Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was the last present my boyfriend bought for me before he passed away in 2005. He pre-ordered it from Amazon and I had no idea, it just turned up on release day, by which point he was really super sick and I remember opening it and him smiling at me and my heart feeling like it had been ripped right out of my chest. The book was released on July 16th and he died on the 30th so it was all pretty grim. I remember him sleeping on the sofa because we didn’t have a tv in our bedroom and he was too sick to move far, and me making a bed out of cushions and lying on the lounge floor. I read this book and watched him sleep and I swear to God, I’m not even being a dramatic fangirl when I say that Harry Potter saved my life. I would not have got through that summer if it weren’t for this book. I wouldn’t. I read it over and over, it was the only book I could face looking at for weeks and Helen and I spent so many hours trying to come up with Dumbledore’s not dead theories. I feel weird about it now, when I’m doing a re-read and get to HBP, I get a knot in my tummy. It’s a weird mixture of comfort and pain that I never quite know how to deal with. OH GOD I AM SO DISMAL I APOLOGISE.

I woke up one morning to a barrage – I’m not even exaggerating here, an actual barrage - of texts off Jen about Rosamund Lupton’s Sister. She was all I KNOW IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT JO BUT THIS BOOK. So I read it, because that’s what I do when Jen recs a book, I find it and I read it. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one sitting. It’s always a book that makes me think of that – of waking up that morning and wondering what the hell had happened, I swear, I thought something had happened that was bad times because so many of the text messages. Ha.

You know when sometimes you discover a book that makes you forget how to breathe? That sucks the air from your lungs and leaves you gasping, hands curled into fists, wondering how life will ever be the same again? I read If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things when my boyfriend was drag racing one weekend in Stratford. 2012 I think. We had an old VW Camper back then, and I unfolded the bed and read this and ate skittles and was totally and completely blown away. It changed how I felt about pretty much everything and I didn't know what to do with myself because how could it be so good? I’ve been reading books like they were going out of fashion my whole life and I had no idea that it was possible to do something like this with just words. Every time I went back to the racetrack after that I’d think about this book. 


if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?


To Kill A Mockingbord. God, I love it. Is there anyone that didn’t study it in school? It feels like one of those books that’s going to be on the curriculum for all of time. Rightly so as well. I loved English at school, it was my subject, the one where I felt like I could really be myself, where it all made sense. Let's not talk about maths and science and all the nonsense. It was all about English, all of the time. We studied TKAM for GSCE, obvs, and that time spent reading it, discussing it, writing about it, was probably the highlight of my education. My English teacher was amazing. I loved her. I still have the copy I bought for school, with all my notes in the margins, all the key paragraphs underlined in HB pencil. I’ve read it so many many times since then, so very many you don't even know and every time there’s still a part of me that feels like that fifteen year old kid in an English Lit lesson; no other two words can make my chest tighten like hey Boo


The Blind Assassin reminds me of the first time I lived alone, in 2001 I think, in this scummy bedsit over the top of a corner shop. God but it was awful. I only lived there a couple of months but it was long enough *shudder* I hated it, hated it. It was so horrible. It’s part of the reason I am so hung up on moviong somewhere amazing now I think: I swore I’d never live like that again. AWFUL. I read The Blind Assassin when I lived there, it was the first time probably that I read Margaret Atwood and thought but how do you even words. This book was a freaking revelation I swear to God. It’s so good. It’s my favourite of hers, still. Will always be I imagine because I can’t imagine anything else ever coming close.

I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was in high school. It’s the book that instantly came to mind actually, when Jen tagged me in this, because it’s a book that instantly makes me think about my fourteen year old self, how I saw myself and how this book made me feel. I was a bit lost and a bit afraid of pretty much everything and a bit desperate to find my place when I was a teenager (I am totally not Team Teenage Years, at all. Being a teenager was a great big pile of elasticated granny pants) and I totally fell for Holly Golightly and her devil may care attitude. She was fashionable and confident and ultra cool: she would never be caged by convention in the way that I totally felt like I was, she’d never be judged for not being pretty or trendy or popular enough. Holly Golightly had zero fucks to give. She’d never waste time and tears on what other people thought of her and when everything felt like it was going to shit, I pretended I was just like Holly Golightly, Travelling. I was a little bit like ‘when I grow up I want to be…’ which, well it’s a bit crackers isn’t it, given that she had no job and was actually pretty damn lonely and probably as lost as I was – it’s interesting actually, how differently I perceive the whole book when I read it now.  Never love a wild thing. I still love that quote.




I found Richard Siken by way of the internet back in 2012, like you do, (HOW DID WE EVER BEFORE THE INTERNETS THOUGH) and got my hands on a copy of his poetry collection Crush as soon as I possibly could. I read it in bed, I think Ian must’ve been away because I was very definitely on my own. I had a cup of hot milk that went cold, forgotten about on the beside table because this book engulfed me entirely. (It went so cold it had that gross out milk skin and I was very nearly sick in my mouth.) It’s the kind of book that crawls under your skin, makes it’s self comfortable and stays there, the kind of book that hit me like a suckerpunch, right in the chest. It gave me goosebumps and it broke my heart and it moved me in a way that even now I can’t quite put into words. I kept a copy of it by my bed for a year, for a while I even carried it around in my bag because weirdly I couldn’t stand to be parted from it. It ruined me, this book, and it ruined my hot milk too.

Little Women means Christmas in a way that nothing else does. It’s more Christmas to me than my Christmas tree even. I’ve read it every Christmas since I was 8. That’s 24 years good gracious I am old. I read it for the first time on Christmas Eve, curled up on our settee. The house was all trimmed up and my Mum was playing her new Cliff Richard Christmas album – and how mental that I remember that still – and there was this amazing new book, blue and hard-backed and lovely with this character called Josephine who loved to read and write and that was it. I was sold. I’ve read it every Christmas since. Not always on Christmas Eve, as I’ve gotten older it usually coincides with trimming up, but still every damn year. I’ll still be reading it when I’m 80. Just watch me.


Between Shades of Gray was a book I read in Cornwall in the summer of 2011. The Ex-Boyfriend and I  had rented out this little beach hut-esque holiday cottage for a fortnight and it was a glorious time of sunshine and cider and coastal paths and lots of cheese. I always eat so much cheese on holiday. So much cheese and so much cider. I started read this book on the beach at St Ives and felt my heart splinter. I was in bed when I finished it, I remember turning to him and saying ‘oh, I think I’m sad’ and then just sobbing. He wondered what the hell was even happening. We could have had a caucus race I cried that much.  A SEA OF TEARS.



Have you read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull? If the answer is no, then you should. You totally should. I first read it in 2002. I say I read it; it was actually read to me. It was one of my boyfriend’s favourite books; he was a bit of a Richard Bach fanboy truth be told and when he found out I’d never even heard of the guy he looked at me in horror, dug his copy of this book out of his bedside drawer and threw it at me. Then, ‘actually’ he said, ‘this is the kind of book that needs to be read aloud’ and he did. It was winter and we lived in this tiny old cottage and the cold seemed to seep through the gaps in the brick; it never felt warm even with the heating on full. I was still so young and I thought that those days would stretch on into forever. We curled up in bed, I wore his t-shirt and his socks and I rested my head on his chest so I could feel the rumble of his voice as he spoke and he played with my hair.  We read two chapters a night and it was one of my most favourite things. That was a side of him that not many people got to see, this soft and affectionate guy that would play with my hair and read to me in bed, that would kiss me hello every time he walked in the house and sing George Benson songs to me in the car. It’s one of those memories that I treasure now he’s not here any more and this book always reminds me that he was so much more than the ‘don’t give a damn’ façade that he presented to the world, that I was one of the few that he let see him with his guard down. It’s a book that sums up for me all that he was, and all that he wanted to be, and it’s a book that will always be cold-nosed whiskey kisses and the rolling timbre of his voice and the feeling of belonging. 

So tell me: what are the books that always take you to that particular time and place?

Friday, 3 July 2015

June Book Haul



Oh, but I do so love doing my book haul posts, books make me so happy all of the time, even though the sheer number of them I actually own terrifies me slightly. Ha. I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching bookshelves this past few weeks lemme tell you!

So, June.

Alice in Zombieland just showed up at work one day at the start of June. I know, right? Random. I have no idea who sent it – usually random bookish parcels arriving at work are from Jen, but not this one. I wondered if it might be a review copy from a publisher, but those usually go to my home address and IT IS A MYSTERY. I was intrigued and a little scared and you know I’m not going to lie – what I have read of this book since has only made me more afraid. Still, the cover’s cute and I’m never one to say no to free books….

The Sin Eater’s Daughter was my treat to myself because…..actually there was no reason. This book keeps popping up on blogs I follow and you know how I always need to know what all the fuss is about and that really was that. S’about this girl, engaged to a prince, who kills everyone she touches which you know, makes her life pretty shitty, but then, there’s A Boy…. I picked it up at the same time as Aristotleand Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe which is also EVERYWHERE. The cover to this one is lush. L U S H. & the story is pretty darn cute too although not as good as all the hype had led me to believe it might be.


Reasons to Stay Alive. I love Matt Haig a little bit, mostly because his tweets make me want to drive to his house and high five him. This book has been so highly praised by everyone in the world ever, and you know, it sounds like the kind of book that all the people every where should read. I’ll let you know if I actually think that’s true once I have indeed read it!!

I bought Uprooted because I read an ARC and LOVED IT and I have this thing about wanting to own actual physical copies of the books I love. I also bought the Penguin Special Editions copy of The Bloody Chamber (I talk about that a bit here) because LOOK AT IT.

I’ve also got review copies of the following:

The Church of Marvels I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. SO EXCITED. Or rather, you probably do because I’ve talked about it before but still. Excited.

Timebomb was released on June 18th. It’s the first in a new YA time travel trilogy, it moves between 2141,  the present day and 1640 and it sounds like it might be right up my street. It’s my next read actually, so watch this space!

Alan Stoob Nazi Hunter. Huh. I don’t know what to expect of this one, or even much about it other than Joanne Harris of Choclat fame reportedly says Alan Stoob is to Nazis what Inspector Clouseau is to jewel thieves. He's a marvellous comic creation, and deserves his own series of movies. I guess we shall just have to wait and see.

A Year of Marvellous Ways is the new Sarah Winman, also released on June 18th. The success of When God Was A Rabbit (which I liked a whole lot) means this is uber highly anticipated and it actually sounds like it’s going to be really lovely. It’s all about this old lady called Marvellous who sits by the sea and looks for something through her telescope. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for, just that it’s out there. She ends up saving this soldier who washes up in the creek by her house, reeling from world war 2, in a bad way and trying to fulfil another soldier’s dying wish. I think it will make me feel all the things.

Ebook wise I was fairly reserved. Yep, I know. Just four:


What Milo Saw which I’ve heard all the good things about: a BIG story about a little boy who sees things differently. I’m really looking forward to it. It's released in paperback in August. 


One, which if you believe all you hear is going to be THE BOOK OF THE SUMMER. It has a publication date of August 27th I think and it’s about conjoined twins who can’t afford to carry on being homeschooled and have to venture into the bog bad world. I have all the Wonder type feels here and I am so desperately hoping it lives up to all the hype – seriously, so many people are saying so many things about this book. Do the pre-ordering thing, do it do it.


Precocious which I talked about here.

&, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls which I need to review so I’m not going to talk about too much now.

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT. June. Next Monday I’m going to (belatedly) talk about the books I’m pleased are being released in July, and there’s quite a handful so you know, BE HERE. Also, I need to review The Quality of Silence and also Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls so next week should be a bloggy week.

HAVE A SUPER WEEKEND.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Review: Precocious



Oh but I’m late reviewing this book, mostly because it’s taken a lot of thinking about, a lot, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it, or how to get across my complicated feelings about the subject matter without feeling like I saying bad things about the book, which I’m not, really. – it’s a funny feeling, enjoying a book but having negative feelings about the story and the characters and I swear I’ve gone forwards and backwards with myself about this one so many times that I feel a little seasick. I’m still not entirely sure I’m going to get this even remotely right, but, time and book reviews wait for no girl….


So, like I talked about earlier this month, I always feel weirdly guilty when I only give a book 3 stars; that totally feels relevant now because this is a three star review and here I am feeling like I need to whisper ‘but that’s a good thing’ because you know, it is.

Joanna Barnard’s Precocious – let’s talk about it.

What is it about the teacher/student relationship thing that people find themselves somehow drawn to? It holds this weird kind of morbid curiosity and why exactly is that? I mean, really, if we’re going to be perfectly honest the whole thing is spectacularly fucked up, and yet. And yet. Perhaps that’s what it is: the fact that it’s so taboo (and I don’t mean that weird fruity drink that you mix with lemonade and that I always kind of like whenever I have a curry)  It’s the kind of thing that you can’t help but have an opinion of, that as a teenager you might see the romance of even though as an adult you’re (hopefully) more like ‘holy abuse of power, batman’ and probably it’s that that makes Joanna Barnard’s novel Precocious such an interesting concept.

Fiona is thirty years old and married when she bumps into her former teacher Henry Morgan again, for the first time since school. Turns out Fiona and Henry had an affair when she was fourteen, and after that chance encounter in the supermarket 15 years later, it’s not long before they’re at it again and what follows is an interesting look at desire and morality and control. The book is told from Fiona’s point of view, both in the present day, and through diary entries when she was at school, which again is super interesting: the juxtaposition of 14 year old Fiona from then alongside 30 year old Fiona from now is a really clever way of telling the story.

As a whole though, I’m kind of on the fence about it, I think.

I mean it was an interesting take on the student/teacher thing and it wasn’t badly written at all – the opposite in fact: Barnard is A Good Writer. The whole first person narrative as Fee tells her story, not to the reader but to Morgan, is really rather excellent and very very effective. Oh you know what, have a quote, lemme share some pretty words.


You are everywhere.
Your initials. I see them in car registrations and my heart skips a beat. I seek out the letters H and M in newspapers and draw them together with my eyes.
HM
Him.


So, there were parts of it that were really good, that had me smiling a little in recognition; some of Barnard’s insights into love and relationships and humanity were spot on and I do rather like the way she writes but, I don’t know…it made me kind of uneasy. Perhaps it was supposed to. I really hope that it was supposed to.

Uneasiness aside – I’ll come back to that later - I struggled with Fiona, which was a problem because a protagonist you can’t quite get along with always makes a book harder to read. She just felt like a really young thirty. She’s only two years younger than I am now, and I am damn sure that my head was a hell of a lot more screwed on two years ago than Fiona’s is. She made so many questionable choices and was so naïve and so very willing to bury her head in the sand and I just, I really wanted to shake her.
Open your eyes woman, because this guy was shagging you when you were fourteen and he was responsible for your wellbeing and even if you couldn’t see how fucked up that was then because you were a child, surely you can see it now??
I was so frustrated. I know a lot of 30 year olds, obviously, because that’s my peer group, and I can’t think of a single one that is as naïve or as emotionally immature as Fiona. The whole way through, I wasn’t thinking ‘oh Morgan’s such a clever bastard’ I was thinking ‘fucksake Fiona open your stupid eyes.’ The way she regressed when she met Morgan again and some of the consequences of that made me want to punch myself in the face (even though they were very well portrayed.)



As for Morgan, well, he just creeped me out.

I’m talking close to Humbert Humbert levels of creeped out here (and do not tell me Lolita is a love story. Do not. I WILL BE SICK IN MY MOUTH. I’m not saying anything about Nabakov’s ability as a writer, at all, because you know he uses his words very well, it’s just that, oh you know what I’m not even getting on that soapbox right now; another story for another day.) 


The point, right now, is that Henry Morgan gave me the creeps. I guess that was kind of the point though, I mean, I doubt I was supposed to come away from this thinking ‘now where can I get me a Henry Morgan.’

As creepy villains go, he was pretty top notch without even trying and without even being particularly villainous (apart from you know, the relationship with his 14 year old student thing. Shudder.) That’s pretty impressive on Barnard’s part if you ask me, because really, sleeping with schoolgirls aside, Morgan’s pretty ordinary. & I hated him. I just, there is nothing about a guy that knowingly has that kind of relationship with a child that is fine, at all, and Morgan’s relationship with Fiona both then and now was just so problematic.

She was a child. He was her teacher. She was a child.

The thing is, the thing that I liked is that Morgan is nothing special; the whole story seemed to me to be about this kid (and later, this woman) head over crazy high heels in love with this guy that’s just a guy. To a degree that worked for me, narratively speaking I mean – it made the whole thing more real somehow, the idea of this schoolgirl falling for an older guy who made her feel special rather than for the hot teacher her friends drooled over; that he’s just a guy like any other and not some kind of superhero, it kind of made sense. I’m floundering a bit here, I know. I think, that’s the thing about that kind of crush isn’t it, that’s what a crush is, idolising somebody who really is just another person. Mr Morgan was just another person, just an average guy, Fee put him on a pedestal and he totally took advantage of that. And it made so much sense for it to be that way than for Mr Morgan to have actually been, I dunno, a Colin Firth lookalike.  Do you hear me?

Precocious made me feel things, and maybe those things weren’t the best things, but I’m totally calling this a job well done regardless: the point of a book is to provoke an emotional response, is it not? And it did. This is a book with a message, and it delivers it, even though both the main characters are pretty unlikeable, Morgan because he’s supposed to be and Fiona because I just couldn’t relate to her. I read it in three hours on a train because that’s the way I roll. It was an easy read and even though it was a frustrating read, it wasn’t a bad one. It’s compelling and it’s disturbing and I feel like I got out of it exactly what I was supposed to somehow, like the point was that your formative years are called that for a reason and when somebody has that level of control over you then, it’s going to have a lasting impact on who you are now and that really, any person who wishes to engage in a sexual relationship with a child (a fourteen year old is a child and you won’t ever convince me otherwise) – particularly one in their care - needs to be out of a job and probably in a prison cell.

Precocious is published on Thursday by Ebury Press. You can get hold of a copy here.