Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Review: The Cursed Child

Holy Smokes but this review has taken all of time to write. Seriously, I cannot actually remember the last time I found it hard to put my feelings about a book into words. I mean I know I flail sometimes and I have kind of made the incoherent keysmash into an art form of my own (and I am eternally sorry for any and all posts that are basically just READ THE DAMN BOOK) but I hardly ever sit and just think ‘well then.’

Thing is, ‘well then’ is pretty much what I did think when I got to the end of The Cursed Child and now I don’t know quite what to do or say. WHAT SHALL I DO OR SAY?

I’m not going to talk about it lots. I could, and maybe I should. But I’m not going to, partly because see above and partly because I know some people haven’t read it yet and I don’t want to be SPOILER GIRL. I’m basically going to say that I have feelings and they’re mixed and a lot of that might be down to what Harry Potter means to me, and how despite myself my expectations for The Cursed Child were unrealistically high. So high though, you don’t even know. They were always going to be. Harry Potter owns a part of my soul, my love for this franchise knows no bounds. For all of time I have – for all of time I will – make grabby hands at anything new that JK Rowling and her cohorts want to throw at me. I will grab it all and I will want it all and I will devour it all, and I will expect it all to fill me with the same wonder that the books did the first time around.

And when it doesn’t, I will feel sad about it.

I think that’s perhaps what I’m feeling now. Sad. Because you see, I remember so well the last time a new Harry Potter book arrived on my lap. I remember Deathly Hallows release day so well. I remember how it was so very very worth the wait. I wanted to love The Cursed Child, believe me I did. & I read part one and made myself stop for the night because I didn’t want it to be over too fast – who knew when (if ever) I was going to get this again, I didn’t want to rush it. & it felt good to be back at Hogwarts, it did. So good. I giggled, and I rolled my eyes and I thought ‘yeah, of course he said that’ and I snorted at Draco and Harry and I was mildly irritated by Ginny and I felt strangely calm and settled and like as JKR promised me, Hogwarts was still there to welcome me home. It just….wasn’t entirely the Hogwarts I was expecting. 

& still, I don’t want to say too much, I don’t want to spoil and I don’t want to bias and to a point I don’t actually want to say anything negative about a part of something that I love so hard (writing this review is hard, dammit. I feel like a house elf.)

I’ll tell you a few things though and the main one is, is that it’s glaringly obvious that a JK Rowling piece of work this is not. Jo very kindly agreed to let somebody play in her sandbox and that’s fine because it’s nice to share your things, but it’s not Harry Potter in the way I know Harry Potter. It doesn’t feel to me to be Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter and I have feelings about that, because it kind of should be, you know? Jo’s Hogwarts is also my Hogwarts and this, this is something else. I didn’t want something else.

It was weird to read too, in some ways, perhaps because it was a script and not prose. We lost a lot there, a mon avis, because a lot of Harry Potter is in the storytelling; the world JKR built; in the way she used her words. So much of what made me fall in love with the whole damn thing in the first place was lost, and I missed it and it was so obvious to me that it wasn’t Rowling’s writing and that made me sad. You don’t get the same level of description in a script, the same level of detail. The detail is what made Harry Potter and without it, at the risk of sounding like a poor and broken record, it just wasn’t the same.

Also, there were flaws in the plot: things that really bugged me and things that felt too convenient and things that needed explaining and things that made me facepalm so hard and there were some pretty major issues with characterisation, such as (sometimes) Hermione (holy feminist issues batman do not let me get on that soapbox because I was a little bit ragey) and Ron (who albeit had some excellent lines) coming across like he was a caricature of himself.
& then there was pretty much everything about Harry as a parent. I felt like some key issues from the books had been conveniently cast aside in order to try to make the story work. Anyone else remember Sirius, and Remus and how thanks to them Harry sort of did have a father figure? Ok, good. Because all of that stuff, the Harry as a father stuff… actually, no. Let’s not. Don’t get me get on the Sirius Black train, it won’t be pretty.

Oh, and I missed people that I thought should have been there – where was Hagrid please? Where exactly was Hagrid. Perhaps Jen was right (and I don’t mind telling you that our live texting of this was a world away from our live texting of DH) and they just didn’t know how to stage him, ha, but still. WHERE WAS HAGRID???

It’s just….I was from the fanfic era you know? I read a lot of fanfiction back In The Day. A lot. And some of it was out of this world excellent. I read fix-it fic, which essentially is what this play was and whilst I was totally a Marauders fangirl, after Deathly Hallows I also read a fair amount of Next Gen fic and that’s kind of what this felt like to me. Next Gen Fix-It Fanfiction. I already knew this version of Albus and Scorpius because I’d met them – they felt like they’d been lifted straight from the internet.  (& if you want to tell me that Scorpius has a thing for Rose then sure, go right ahead, but that’s not the play I read.)

On the flip side, the Voldemort storyline made my skin crawl in the way I imagine it was supposed to and there was also a scene with Harry that ripped out my heart in a way that I was not prepared for, fuckety fuck and also ouch.
There was some excellent and very moving Snape stuff (good God is anything to do with Severus Snape ever not going to destroy me?) and, there was Scorpius. Oh, Scorpius Malfoy, how I love you. If JKR wanted to write an actual book about that kid, I would so totally be down for reading that thanks.

& despite my misgivings I can totally see that it would be pretty impressive on stage, and I really want to see it. I also loved the little bits of JKR that shone through – I mean look at Albus’s initials and tell me she hadn’t already sorted him when she wrote the epilogue. There are zero coincidences in Harry Potter and I have always loved Jo for that. Those little bits, the blink and you’’l miss it foreshadowing, the ‘fuck yes’ moments of realisation, the seemingly insignificant details that turn out to be epically important, the things. Those are what I love. This play was lacking in things. I WANT ALL THE THINGS. 

TL;DR: If you want to read some really excellent fan fiction then start here. For the love of God if you’re going to read The cursed Child because you’re a Harry Potter fan, then read this because wowzer.
If you want to read something that’s been for actual real published then read this and then read this because Rainbow Rowell is a genius. 

& you know what, read The Cursed Child. Let’s be honest, you’re a HP fan so you’re going to anyway. Just, just remember that it was never meant to be read like this, it was supposed to be seen and remember that JK Rowling didn’t write it, and don’t expect it to be like the books, and make your own mind up afterwards.

(Sad Jo is still sad about this whole damn thing.)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Quick Quick Catch Up

People of the blogosphere, dance with me: it’s pumpkin spice season. Or autumn, we could just call it autumn if you’d like. Either way, it is the season of joy and delight. The season of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (Starbucks I love you *other coffee shops are available) and leaves underfoot; of conkers and so many colours; of fingerless gloves and woolly jumpers and delightfulness. The colours of autumn though, are they not just lush!? Last October my pal and I walked through St James’s park and the colours were so stunning they took my breath away a little bit. I went a bit snap happy because I am totally girl of the instagram generation, today (for work related purposes I hasten to add) I photographed my socks. Anyhow. That’s another story.

Autumn is my favourite I think, partly because of the PSL which may well be the most delicious coffee related beverage in the history of time. There’s a pumpkin spice Bailey’s this year, did you know? DID YOU KNOW? Oh, but I am excited to get my little hands on a bottle of that. I also love autumn because it’s perfect for reading. The nights start to draw in and you find that you feel deliciously melancholy somehow and so you (and by ‘you’ I obviously mean ‘I’ and I am so sorry for projecting) feel less guilty for curling up under a blanket and shutting the world away. A blanket, a cozy spot, a cup of coffee and a good book. Is there a pleasure in the world that is equal to that? NO THERE IS NOT. It’s totes a cliché, but it’s a freaking excellent cliché and I am all over it. LET ME BE THE GIRL IN THE OVERSIXED JUMPER WITH THE AUSTEN NOVEL PLEASE.

& so because it’s autumn and it’s a time for reading and because I have been awfully lax of late (my last post was in June and I hate myself a little bit for that) here are some books I’ve read recently that I feel like should be on reading lists everywhere right now, along with some exciting looking autumnal releases.

What have I been reading, then; what do I think you should all read now that it’s September?

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell is a book I was super excited about because when it was released last year it was everywhere and I was hearing All The Good Things. All of them.  & I liked it. It starts of in dystopian London (I love me a good dystopia. Everybody knows it) where everything is bad: Oxford Street burned for week, people are homeless and desperate and squatting in the British Museum and not having an identity card doesn’t only mean you don’t exist, it means you’ll be shot. Lalla is 16, her dad is a (really creepy) visionary and thanks to him she gains passage on The Ship which is kind of like Noah’s Ark for humans – 500 humans, one ship and no talk – ever- of a destination and nobody seems to think that’s weird, except Lalla. It’s good, and interesting and a pretty unique twist on the whole dystopia thing. I liked it. It’s also a pretty cool coming of age story and you cannot get enough of those am I right? I’m right. Anyway, it’s worth a read.

Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire is good. It paints a terrifyingly accurate picture of how crazy and passionate and intense female friendship can be. It’s like, imagine your late teen self (some of us have to imagine that ok, for some of us it was a while ago) and then exaggerate it by some and you have Hannah and Dex and even though it’s really extreme you kind of relate to it because it can be like that, female friendship more potent and intense and under-your-skin emotional than any romance and this book gets that. It’s also super pretty, which, I am always all about the pretty words, and mindblowingly observant, there’s ordinary and also extraordinary all tangled up as one and the same and ain;t that just how life goes sometimes? And it’s set in the nineties. THE NINETIES.  Fascinating, gripping, different. It’s messed up and it’s addictive and full of fucked up characters and destructive relationships and completely unreliable narrators. All those excellent things.

I read Sarah Pinborough’s The Death House last year and adored it so I was ridic excited when I saw she’d got a new book out there: Thirteen Minutes. Totally different to The Death House but still quite, quite excellent. AND SO DAMN CLEVER. So clever. Natasha is pulled from a freezing river. She was dead for thirteen minutes. She has no idea how she got there, what happened or why but the more she tries to figure it out the more it looks like perhaps somebody tried to kill her, and perhaps that somebody is a person she loves. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer and all that, but what if you can’t tell them apart? Reading this made me question why I don’t read more psychological thrillers because I do love them so.

You should also look at Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours which I read last week and plan to come back and review properly because I have feelings. It freaked me out.

As far as new (and upcoming) releases go I feel like you should keep an eye out for these babies. I haven’t read any of them, yet (although Today Will Be Different is next on my list) but I want to, because they all sound marvellous.

Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple who wrote Where’d You Go, Bernadette (which I haven’t read but feel like I should) is about a day in the life of one woman, about tackling the little things, and about life often gets in the way of doing just that.

Holding Up the Universe from Jennifer Niven who wrote All the Bright Places because would I be me if I didn’t hit you with a YA rec? It sounds a little Eleanor & Park.

Here I Am, the new novel from Jonathan Safran Foer sounds interesting and relevant and rather excellent and I really liked Extremely Loud so you know, fingers crossed.

The Wonder is the latest from Emma Donoghue which I shall likely read even though I am mad at her because I watched Room recently and my heart broke a little bit.

Ali Smith’s Autumn because hello, it’s called Autumn.

And, GARY OLDMAN and Douglas Urbanski’s BloodRiders. GARY OLDMAN. COWBOYS. VAMPIRES. VAMPIRE COWBOYS. Do I need to say more. It will either be incredible or awful. Or incredibly awful. Frankly, I don’t even care.

So there you have it. I’m back, I think. I have Only Ever Yours to talk about, and I’ve been trying to get my thoughts about The Cursed Child in order for weeks so expect to see me talking about that at some point and I’m reading the new Chris Cleave right now (and I love it, don’t wait for my review: read it now) and my BFF’s baby is one now and is making me want to talk about picture books so that might be a thing and I feel like I might be back to having Things To Say. Hurrahs.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Author Visit: Carys Bray Talks Books

This Tuesday is an excellent Tuesday because I’ve got the lovely Carys Bray – author of the shiny new The Museum of You here to chat about all things bookish. Hurrah!

Carys!  Thank-you so much for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere; grab a coffee and a jar of Biscoff spread and a spoon and make yourself comfortable.

Before we get started, let’s warm up with a quick fire round.

Ready, steady, GO:

  1. Coffee, tea or…?
  1. Favourite film?
Oh, erm – I do like the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I know it’s not strictly a film, but I’ve watched it loads of times!
  1. Favourite book?
It changes, but at the moment I love A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
  1. Summer or winter?
  1. Favourite Colour?
  1. Last thing you ate?
A Magnum ice cream.
  1. Dream holiday destination?
Moab, Utah.
  1. If you could jump to any point in history, who would you have dinner with?
I’d love to have dinner with Carol Shields. I think her novels and short stories are brilliant and it would be great to speak to her about her writing.
  1. How do you like your steak?
I’m a vegetarian, so alive and mooing, living in a field somewhere would be good!
  1. What are your pet peeves?
I hate it when taxis park overnight on both corners of the end of my street, just outside my drive. According to my family, my annoyance is totally disproportionate (but it definitely isn’t – ha!).

I do love that bit! Anyway, on to the proper bookish fun stuff!

Let’s get started.

Firstly, I’ve read The Museum of You (and I thought it was ridiculously wonderful) but for anyone who’s yet to get acquainted with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The Museum of You is the story of Darren and his daughter Clover. Clover is twelve, old enough to spend the summer at home while Darren works, driving a bus between Southport and Liverpool. After a school trip to the Maritime Museum, Clover decides to curate a collection of objects that have been sitting in the second bedroom for years.

I love the whole premise of the book, the way Clover goes about setting up The Museum of You and the way you weave the story she’s discovering for herself with Darren’s. Where did the idea come from?

I was thinking about museums. In my town we lost both our nearest library and nearest museum (the loss of the library was particularly galling – the building that housed it was knocked down and whenever I drive down that road the empty space is there, like a missing tooth). I was thinking about objects and the stories they tell. I’d been to the Titanic Exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum and I was fascinated by a display case containing some of the personal effects that had been found at the bottom of the sea. I started to think about curation and what, if anything, we can learn about people from their possessions.

It’s always so excellent when a book is set somewhere you’re familiar with so I loved that Museum of You was set in my neck of the woods – Rivington Pike (about a ten minute drive from my old house), Southport, Formby (which might be my favourite beach ever). Was it a conscious decision to set the book here or did you find Clover and Darren living on your doorstep quite by accident?

It was definitely a deliberate decision. After Issy Bradley, I wanted to set another book in the North West – there wasn’t a reason not to, and we have so many amazing museums here that it was easy to set the book locally.

I can remember a pal of mine telling me about The Lawnmower Museum and thinking she was joking. Have you ever been? What is the best museum you’ve ever visited? Or the weirdest?

I have been! I’m not that into lawnmowers, but the stories really make the museum. I learned that James May of Top Gear once reassembled a particular lawnmower without any instructions. Another lawnmower was pulled by a horse that wore leather shoes so as not to spoil the lawn. And some people like to participate in lawnmower races (12 hour lawnmower races!). My favourite displays involved the ‘lawnmowers of the rich and famous.’ I saw Paul O’Grady’s lawnmower and Eric Morcombe’s Dad’s lawnmower (an object which provoked some serious giggling).

I used to love the Botanic Gardens museum which was close to our house. It was closed in the recent government cuts. The best bit was the taxidermy room which was full of interesting birds and mammals. 

Dagmar. Oh my heart. Talk to me about Dagmar please because I love her, I love her just as much as I love Clover. I actually did contemplate just sending a one question interview that just said ‘Dagmar?’  I want to know about her background and about her friendship with Clover and about what her life was like when she wasn’t with Clover but most of all I just want to know she’s okay.

Dagmar moved to England from the Czech Republic when she was 10. She had a hard time in year 6 at the primary school she attended and she has been having a hard time during her first year of high school too: children call her Dracula and make fun of her accent. Her dad was in the Czech army and experienced some awful things and her mum works long hours in a hotel. Dagmar has had a horrible couple of years, but now that she and Clover are friends, things are looking up for her.

And also Mrs. Mackerel. Is she somebody you know, or did you completely make her up? I’m not even sure which I would prefer. She’s fab by the way. Laugh out loud funny.

I made Mrs Mackerel up, but she was inspired by a funny notebook I inherited from my maternal grandmother. The notebook was full of linguistic mistakes that my grandmother had overheard and jotted down. I decided that Edna Mackerel would make similar mistakes and I started keeping a notebook of my own, writing down funny things I overheard in order to use them in the novel.
Some of the funny things in my grandmother’s notebook came from one of her colleagues at work (she was a teacher).
They included:
“I’m saying this with my tongue in my mouth.”
“There’s a pair of knickers here. I’ve had them on my hands for a fortnight.”
“These three have hit the headlights.”

My own notebook included things my children said:
“I’m just twisting your leg, Mum.”
“He was an “escape goat.”
“It was a racist Shloer.”

The book kind of made me want an allotment; it felt like a kind of catharsis for Darren and for Clover, the allotment – a place they could just go to and be and I love the idea of that. Do you have one?

I do have one and I love it. In 2015 we didn’t need to buy any potatoes or onions for the whole year, which felt very satisfying. I’d love to get better at growing more exciting things like sweetcorn and spinach; that’s my goal this year.

The Museum of You is a different story entirely to your first novel A Song for Issy Bradley although they both deal with loss and grief and the strength of love &your book Sweet Home is a short story collection so a different thing entirely. Which of the books did you find easiest to write, and why?

I loved writing A Song for Issy Bradley because there wasn’t any pressure. I didn’t know if the novel would ever be published and I didn’t think about how it would be received. I just wrote it, and really enjoyed myself in the process. Writing The Museum of You was a very different experience from writing Sweet Home and A Song for Issy Bradley. I knew quite early on in the process that The Museum of You was going to be published which meant that I was working to a deadline and hoping that people who enjoyed my other books would like it. As a result, the process felt quite different.

And is the answer to that question the same as the answer to ‘which is your favourite’ and if not because I’m just a little bit mean, which is your favourite? & I hope that doesn’t make you feel like I’m asking you to choose a favourite child!

Oh, I don’t know! Perhaps Issy Bradley because it was the first book to find a wide range of readers and the one that made me feel like it was okay to begin to describe myself as a writer.

If The Museum of You was a DVD what would the special features be - are there any scenes that ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that you can share? *cough*A Dagmar and Clover scene*cough*

The special features would include a few deleted scenes. There was a parent’s evening scene during which Clover attempted to set Darren up with her English teacher. It was pretty excruciating! And there was a scene during which Darren almost thumped someone in a staff training exercise.

Tell us about how you write: do you prefer a loud room or a quiet room; is your manuscript typed or handwritten, do you write during set hours or as the word comes, and at home or some place else? What works best?

I type everything. I like being able to go back and delete things or move them around by copying and pasting text. I work in both loud and quiet places, although I do prefer things to be quiet, if possible. I try to work while my children are at school, but I also work in the evenings and, occasionally, during the night.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel about a marriage that goes wrong when one partner starts to believe that the world is ending.

What’s the best writing tip you’ve been given?

Read lots. I think it’s really important to read while thinking about what works and what doesn’t. It’s also very enjoyable!

& because I’m always on the look out for new book recommendations, what are you reading right now?

At the moment I’m reading Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. It’s very entertaining.

& what’s the best book you’ve read this year?

I recently read Jenn Ashworth’s fourth novel, Fell. It’s creepy and disturbing, a haunting evocation of regret, redress and the kindness of strangers, and it’s not quite like anything I’ve read before. It will be published in July 2016.

If you want to read The Museum of You (and you should because it's glorious) then you can grab a copy here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: When We Were Alive

I have been away for a while again haven’t I? I do so hate it when real life stops me from doing blogging. I’m back now though, my mojo sorta returned and to make up for it I have a list of books I’ve read that I want to talk to you about and maybe even a special guest. We’ll talk about that later though, because right now I wanna talk about this:

I went into CJ Fisher’s When We Were Alive not really sure what to expect.

Do I need to mention that Fisher is also on YouTube under the handle Ophelia Dagger? Most people probably already know that already. I didn’t; I’ve seen her videos but hadn’t realised that this was her. I’m not actually sure how relevant it is, actually, because I’m not here to tell you that you ought to read this book because books by YouTubers are super cool. I’m telling you to read this book because YouTube Channel or not, CJ Fisher is A Very Good Writer. I tell you, for a debut, this is seriously good. In fact, that might be unfair. Probably I should just say that it’s good, because it is.

It’s very wordy, which, well I loved. All the pretty words, all of the time thank-you please, and it’s very cleverly written, with three equally excellent stories interwoven together and taking us from 2011 to the 1970’s to the 1930’s and back again, each voice sharp and unique and strong with a mixture of third person narrative and letters from a young boy to the Mother he doesn’t know. It’s witty and clever and very perceptive and I was gripped. Utterly gripped.

Lemme tell you a bit about it because I’m being vague, and being vague does not a helpful review make.

It’s three stories – I said that already I know, bear with - seemingly unconnected stories, told independently of one another but woven together so intricately that sometimes it makes your breath catch. Themes are repeated and ideologies are repeated and it’s so damn clever that you don’t even realise it right away. I love that.

In 2011 you’ve got Myles. Myles is in his early 20’s and though it’s never explicitly stated you can’t help but think he places somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. He reminds me a little of Charlie a little bit, from Perks. He tells his story, random and wonderful and a little bittersweet as it is, through the letters he pens to the Mum he never knew – gimme all the epistolary stories please – and he’s candid and honest and open even though sometimes he’s a little bit inappropriate and he’s really intriguing. Probably not the most reliable of narrators lets be honest but that’s kind of the appeal.

Then, in the 70’s there’s Will who is on a path to self destruction in a bid to just feel. He gets drunk in a hotel in Vegas and meets a girl. Dawn turns his life upside down. Will’s kind of fascinating, a bit of a train wreck, and you kind of want to help him, to save him, and at the same time (because you know he’s not real) you want to sit back and watch, see where, exactly he’s going to end up.

Then further back still, right back to the 1930’s and Bobby. We meet Bobby when he’s 12 and he’s a misfit and he wants to be a magician and he has no friends but his parents until he meets Rose. Rose who becomes his friend quite by accident and is part of his story through WWII and after and Bobby might be my favourite actually, partly because of the setting of his story and partly because he sort of makes your chest tight. Gah. I love him.

It’s a book about life, skipping from one decade to the next and back again and showing you with no holds barred these snapshots into these three lives and making you root for them, ache for them, believe in them. There are twists and there are turns, there are things you see coming and sometimes you find yourself saying ‘oh hello foreshadowing’ and things that you absolutely did not see coming but at all. It’s not a barrel of laughs (and I know, I hear you say: probably that’s why I liked it so) but it’s a good book. It’s about love and it’s about life and it’s about how with the passage of time some things remain the same even as others change beyond recognition. It’s about how sometimes things look truly fucking awful but you have to find a way to pick yourself up and carry on. It’s a book that wraps it’s arms around you and clings; you can’t help but be absorbed. I cannot wait to see where Fisher goes next.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review: The Museum of You

…Sometimes it’s the wait that’s the best bit isn’t it? Knowing something's coming and enjoying the feeling of it about to happen – like Christmas Eve, which is always better than Christmas Day.’

I think Carys Bray might be one of my most favourite recent authors. I read her debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley in 2014 (I talk about that here) and feel into a book love so hard it took me a while to recover so I was super excited when I learned that she has a new novel out in June. I also got to chat to her last year at one of Jen’s events. She signed a copy of Issy Bradley for me and was just as delightful as I had hoped – it’s always a pleasure isn’t it, when somebody you want to be lovely actually really is. Anyway, point is, I read The Museum of You last week – I finished it last night - and I absolutely adore it. I think it’s the best book I’ve read this year. I kind of want to smoosh it close at the same time as I shove it in the faces of everybody I know with a demand of read this book right immediately right now.

Have a blurb, people like blurbs. I like writing the word blurb.


Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, but now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is still full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell her the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.
But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.

It’s so good.

It’s tender and it’s funny and it’s moving and it’s so damn pretty. And honest, unflinchingly honest and full of lines that make you just say, ‘yes, yes¸ exactly that.’

People aren’t speed bumps, you don’t get over them.

Carys has a really strong, really unique voice and it’s one that fits really well with the way that I read, truthful and somehow at the same time simple but intricate and she has this way of getting right into the very heart of her characters. Clover and Darren aren’t just words on a page, they’re like real living breathing people that you feel like you know; that you want to know better. They step right off the page. There’s an exchange in a bedroom over a mug of warm water, between Darren and his Dad that choked me up. The whole damn book choked me up to be honest, but that bit: oh hello tears, where did you come from? It’s just….real. So very real.

Oh, and Dagmar, the little girl in Clover’s class at school. Let me talk to you about Clover and Dagmar because those two girls, I swear, it’s one of the most beautiful perfect depictions of friendship I have ever read. Dagmar. Every single word about her made me feel all of the things and the scene near the end where she quietly confronts Clover about their friendship and what it means, it’s just so perfect and unflinchingly raw. I would like more Dagmar. I want to know the summer from her side. I want to know that she’s going to be ok.

This is a beautiful read.  This is writing as writing should be, it’s so easy to read, picking you up and carrying you gently along, you’re swept away and you don’t even realise it, just like you don’t even realise really how deeply it’s gotten under your skin and how wonderfully complex it is until hours have passed and your chest is tight and you look around to reach for Clover and hold her only to realise she’s not actually real after all.  WHY IS SHE NOT REAL?
It’s like, Carys Bray writes grief and quiet unassuming love like nobody else I can think of, in a way that hurts your heart but at the same time makes you feel hopeful and somehow better.

It’s the same with love, he thinks. It doesn’t go anywhere. You can decrease its volume and increase its density; you can bundle it up, tight, but you still have to lug it around with you.

The Museum of You was like a catharsis I didn’t even know I needed.

Which, I know I know, but surely if you’ve stopped by here before you’re used to me making no sense by now.

This book is sad y’all, it’s really really sad and that’s just a thing that is, and you get deep into it. Deep into Clover and this longing for a Mum she never knew (and God, Clover is so amazing, naïve and at the same time wise beyond her years and curious and so open) and deep into Darren and this struggle to be without Becky, to be everything to his little girl but it’s never sadness for the sake of it and it’s never over the top and it’s never prying. It is at its heart a simple story about love and loss and life, a simple story told in the most beautiful of ways.

Bittersweet. Is that the word? Bittersweet and careful and compassionate and at times so honest it makes your breath catch. This is not a dreary sad times book that’s just going to leave you feeling sad and empty, it’s hopeful and it’s funny and Mrs Mackerel is the most excellent neighbour in the history of ever. Fact. And the ending is gorgeous. Really really gorgeous.

I want you to read this book, please. Please. It's released in June - do yourself a favour and pre-order!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Review: Radio Silence

What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?
Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.
Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.
It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.
Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

I haven’t read Solitaire, Alice Oseman’s debut novel, although I did see and hear about it everywhere, enough that Radio Silence caught my eye anyway. Solitaire was a success. I wanted to know who Alice Oseman was. Obviously  I still don’t know that because you know, we haven’t actually met. I can tell you this much though: she can write; Radio Silence is funny and real and incredibly incredibly honest. It’s written by someone who understands her target market, who seems to really feel what it’s like to be university age right now. A quick Google tells me she is only 21 years old. It all makes sense now; Oseman is writing what she knows and she’s getting it absolutely right. If you want a book that’s relevant to the right now, then this is a book that you want to be reading. 

It’s a pretty interesting study of some fairly complex issues this book, which, well I do love a book with a message. It’s not preachy though and it doesn’t shove its message in your face, but it does make you say ‘oh yeah actually, that’s pretty damn accurate.’ It’s a really interesting look at what it’s like to be the nerdy kid, or the smart girl, an interesting look at how people like ‘study machine Frances Janvier’ are seen by their peers. It’s also a really awesome look at friendships and relationships and how people change and grow together and apart and I love the lack of romance. Seriously. Take this exchange between Frances and Aled who in most other books would be kissing face by the chapter eight:

 “‘And I’m platonically in love with you.’

‘That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.'”

I love it. I love it that the focal point of this book, the key relationship is that of a friendship, a completely platonic relationship between a boy and a girl. AMAZING. There’s not even a hint of sexual tension; there’s no slow burn; there’s no instalove; there’s not a single YA Romance trope. There’s just a boy and a girl being best friends and being awesome. Give me all of that and more please. There’s also a m/m relationship that’s as real as they come, complete with ups and downs and messy emotional misunderstandings. I mean, if this book were less well-written it might feel as though it followed a check-list for diversity with the aforementioned m/m relationship, a handful of LGBT characters and 3 out of 4 characters being POC but it doesn’t read like that at all, what it reads like is an excellent, relevant (and I know I am overusing that word right now) accurate, honest story. None of these characters feel like ‘Token Gay,’ it feels like their sexuality, their skin colour just is – they’re well rounded and fully fleshed out and extremely relatable to. Excellent charaterisation really is excellent – you feel like you know these kids, like you’re under their skin. They’re just…vivid.  You want to be their friend. Damn, I want to be Alice Oseman’s friend. Hey Alice, wanna be pals?

It’s also an excellent look at the internet and fandom and the like, in a totally different way to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl but no less excellent. The fandom in question is a podcast called Universe City which I believe to be inspired by Welcome to NightVale which I have heard of but never listened to (but now kind of want to) just like I want to listen to the bits of UC that are on YouTube. How awesome is that? I love it. I love that Universe City is a thing I can go and listen to because those parts of the book, the University City transcripts and the mystery surrounding February Friday (be still my heart omg) were pretty much my fave parts of the whole thing. So there’s the whole Universe City thing and its look at internet fame and fandom and all that jazz (super relevant because look at what the world looks like, it’s all Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, instagram Tumblr; it’s all about finding something you love and gushing over it online, that’s what being a young adult looks like right now, and I love how Oseman has used that to tell her story) there’s an excellent amount of diversity, there’s a look at the pressures of leaving college and deciding what to do next, especially when it’s always felt like your life is pre-planned, there’s a smart look at familial relationships, there’s minimal romance, and there’s Frances, who young adults all over the place are going to see themselves in; I’m almost 32 and I recognised myself in her. I mean this is a girl that’s got booksmarts but is still kind of awkward, that obsesses over YouTube channels and can fangirl like a pro, that sits around the house in PJ pants and hoodies eating pizza and who wants to be invited to go clubbing with the girls from school but hates it when she actually gets there and who puts more pressure on herself than is ever ever necessary. She’s perfectly flawed and I love her. 

All in all, this book is just excellent. The only flaw really, is that there was so much that was excellent that it felt a little busy sometimes and some things I would have liked to have been explored in a little more detail; some people I would have liked to have seen more of got left a little by the wayside. Minor niggle is minor though. & as a book that says it’s ok to not know who you are or what you want; it’s ok to spend your life wanting one thing and then realise it’s not the right fit after all, that it’s not all about what others expectations of you and that whatever you do, whoever you are, you’re ok, I think it’s really important. 

Radio Silence is a good book, and it’s a book that you don’t see that often: Oseman has identified a gap in her genre and she fills it perfectly. S’a book you should read, this one. GO AND DO JUST THAT

Monday, 11 April 2016

In which I rant about 'Real Women'

Things I hate:

Cold winter mornings when I just want to stay in bed
The sound of my alarm clock
And this real women have curves bullshit.

Oh dear. I’m perhaps about to do a rant. I’m sorry – I’m tired, I did not sleep well last night, I’m a little bit grumpy and I am pissed off.

I saw a thing today on social media, not unlike things I’ve seen all over the place and all of the time that usually make me grit my teeth keep on scrolling, some kind of alleged body positivity, talking about having curves ‘like women should.’

Erm fuck off (language, bad language. This post might have it. Soz) Those are the comments that piss me off.

I mean, I’m not curvy I’m just…not. Apart from my bum, that’s perhaps not quite in proportion with the rest of my 5ft 4” self. Am I less of a woman because I’m slight, because I’m not curvy, because my boobs are small, because I have that thigh gap that seems to be the worst thing a girl can possibly have? You want to know a thing, I like my thigh gap. Stop telling me it makes me a shitty person. Stop telling me I’m not a real woman.

The definition of the word real is this:

actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.

So when you say that real women have curves and take into account that I do not, that I have small boobs and a thigh gap are you somehow saying that I am imaginary?

I’m not by the way, imaginary I mean – I know this because I was pushing a  twin pram at the weekend and when I banged my shin on the bottom carry cot it hurt like a bitch. I’m surprised I didn’t bruise. But that ‘oh shitting hell’ of pain, it shows that I’m just as real as any other woman. Surprisingly.

All women are beautiful (except, it seems, us smaller ones) and people need to remember that. I am by no means what you would call skinny, I’m small but I’m not skinny. What I am, is not curvy and that’s ok. Embrace your curves; be proud of who you are, you should be, but please don’t feel better about yourself or make yourself more of a woman by somehow I am implying I am less than one. I didn’t choose my body shape any more than you chose yours. You don’t have curves like women should. You have curves. That’s how that sentence should end. Anything else is pitting woman against woman and is a competition that I am pretty damn sure none of us agreed to.

You are not your bra size, your hips, your cankles or collar bones, you’re not the marathons you run or the food that you eat, you are not your curves and you are not your size 8 jeans. You are not defined by the way you look, and however you look, you are no less real because of it. What you are is the way you laugh and the way you cry; the things that make you smile and the reasons you find to drag yourself out of bed in a morning; you are the photographs you take and the way you sing in the shower and the secrets you keep and the promises you make; you are your thoughts and you are your ambitions and you are your dreams. You are so much more than what you see in the mirror.

To suggest anything else is insulting and it sends out a terrible message and to say we should look a certain way – curvy - is just as terrible actually, as calling somebody fat. I don’t have a great body image and I don’t have a great relationship with food and it’s hard for me sometimes to look in the mirror and feel ok with what I see. Don’t make that harder for me by suggesting that the shape and size I am is somehow inferior to yours, that I am less, that I am not real and I am undesirable – that no real man would want me. That’s shitty and also brings me to another thing that I’d also like to put into Room 101 (such  a great show): Real men like curves.

Shut up. Real men (there’s that word again) like whatever attracts them personally: a flat stomach, an arse they can grab hold of, big boobs, small boobs, blonde hair, brown eyes, a dirty laugh, a shy giggle, a party animal, a bookworm.

Don’t imply I am less of a woman because I’m only a size 8 and don’t imply my boyfriend is somehow less of a man because he likes me that way. It’s nonsense.

I would never say to you that you’re too big to be desired, or that real men like thin chicks. I wouldn’t say it because I don’t think it’s true and I wouldn’t say it because I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings. I have feelings too. (I also wouldn’t say it because OH HELLO MISOGONY, WHY SHOULD I EXSIST ONLY TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO A MAN. I am who I am for me, not for the amount of attention I get from a man but hey, another soap box;another day.)

Basically, taste your words before you spit them out, say you’re curvy and you love it, and leave out that ‘like real women should be’ nonsense, and remember being body positive means being all body positive, it doesn’t mean belittling the body shape that’s not the same as yours – what that is, is body shaming and it’s never okay.