Book Review – The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick

5_star_rating_system_4_and_a_half_stars As children we’re so often told that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a quaint little adage that I completely agree with when talking about people but not when talking about actual books. As any bookish person will tell you, you can very often tell whether or not you’ll like a book based on the cover art. I buy the majority of my books based on chance encounters in book shops. The typical romantic-comedy meet cute kind of thing. I walk into a bookshop, come face to face with something beautiful, everything gets a bit blurry, strings start playing in the background, I read the synopsis, we’re a perfect match, and we end up going home together. It’s a tale as old as time. And exactly what happened with the last book that I read. It was just your everyday lunchtime book shop browse and I fell in love. With a simple white cover with a black illustration. It was creepy. It was gorgeous. I had to pick it up. As soon as I read the word Frankenstein on the back I was doomed. I’d never read anything by Marcus Sedgwick but, if this cover told me anything, I knew this was going to be for me.

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Book Review – Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

through-the-woods5_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars As you may have noticed from my last couple of book reviews, I was starting to get a bit cocky about the frequency with which I was starting to post them. I mean two in two weeks. Who would have thought it? Especially when a matter of weeks ago I was experiencing a devastating reading slump that saw me slog through Frankenstein in Baghdad for over two months! But, I admit, I was starting to get a bit too big for my boots. Something which promptly stopped the minute I realised I’d not read a damn thing for most of last week. I’m currently reading White Houses by Amy Bloom but I’ve not been feeling it this week. Nope, what I’ve been feeling is Project Runway and whatever other shit I could find on Netflix. So, when I wrote my Sunday Rundown this week I started panicking that I wouldn’t have anything to review tonight. So I did what any other good book blogger did and bought a book that I not only wanted to read but, more importantly, could finish in one night! Really the only reaction. So, yet again, I’m keeping up my streak. With a little sneakiness.

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Book Review – Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

5_star_rating_system_5_stars So, anyone paying attention to my Sunday Rundowns for the past few months will know that I’ve been suffering from a major reading slump recently. So much so that the last time I reviewed a book was way back in April. In fact, the book I’m reviewing tonight was one I started at the beginning of April. Yes, I stopped to read another book in between but after that it took bloody ages. I thought I was never going to finish. Every time I sat down to read I just couldn’t pluck up the energy. It’s a huge shame because I was so excited to read this novel. It was actually on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2018‘ list. For one thing, how can anyone ignore a title quite like that? It’s a fantastic thing. Especially for someone who loves Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so much. The war in Iraq is modern history but is something that we all have memories of in some way. The idea that the two were being combined into something darkly comical was super appealing. It’s just a shame I lost my mood for reading. As much as I enjoyed this, I think it deserves a reread when I get to a suitable time in my life. Once I’ve stopped lending it to everyone I keep convincing to read it. I just can’t help myself. I’m obsessed with this book.

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 18

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dscn7269Dear Frankenstein,

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this letter let me just say happy birthday. What a wonderful year; both of us celebrating significant ages. Your 200 does make my mere 30 years seem a bit trifling, so thanks for that, but at least you’re one of the few things that actually makes me feel young these days. And, let’s be honest, you look really great for it. If I look half as good when I reach my bicentenary year then I’ll be happier than a mad scientist bringing a corpse back to life.

Now, in relation to a lot of the books on this list, we haven’t known each other for that long. I think I first read you as a 15-year-old probably. I guess I wasn’t in a big rush because I’d seen so many hammy, black and white film adaptations. You see a big lumbering monster capturing women and fleeing from angry mobs with pitchforks a hundred times then you’re not necessarily in a rush to read the book.  I expected you to be camp and overly kitsch. A bit embarrassing. But, thankfully, I was introduced to an English teacher who made me read you. And I’m so glad they did.

Let me be honest with you for a second; I’m a pretty bad bookworm. I don’t tend to reread books all that often. There are certain ones I make an exception for but it’s very infrequent. I don’t set aside a few weeks every year to read the same novel again and again because I love it so much. There are more than a few people who I follow on Instagram who will read the Harry Potter series at least once a year sometimes more. How can they do that to themselves? Do they not have a massive library of unread books to read first? And, really, I’m of the belief that too much of something is a bad thing. If I were to revisit my favourite books too often then I’d eventually hate them. And I already dislike most of the books I read these days. I’d have nothing left. So I tend to just fall in love with a book and deposit it safely on my bookshelf and never speak to it again. Well, I might occasionally stroke it or take it down to photograph it but I tend not to open its pages. It’s safer.

But you broke the mould. You changed the rules. You have the honour of being the book that I have reread most in my lifetime. Okay, so we’ve established that that’s not a very meaningful title to give, especially after I’ve just read something by someone claiming to have read you 50 times, but for me its huge. I’d love to say I did it off my own back but I didn’t. Nope, you followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. You were my Annie Wilkes. Every time I thought I’d got away you would come back in and cut off another of my feet with your axe. I read you for about 5/6 years in a row for my English studies. I started to think I was cursed or something. Every time, I thought to myself, there is literally nothing more I can get from this book but, every time, I was wrong.

You are so much more than the story of a man creating a murderous monster. Yes, you’re the grandfather of modern science-fiction. Yes, there is a lot of mythology surrounding your creation. Yes, you revitalised gothic fiction of the age. But you have so much more to say. So much to say about the human spirit, about science, about obsession, and about fitting into society. You were revolutionary. You changed everything. You changed literature. You changed me. I enjoyed every new read even more than the first time. I fell more and more in love with you every time. And I will continue to fall in love with you every time I read you.

You are a beautifully crafted novel and by someone so young. There is such heartbreak and pain within your pages along with such exciting prose. You are, to borrow a word found so frequently in your film counterparts, alive! I don’t think any book out there has made me feel so many different emotions every single time. You have created some of the most memorable and human characters I’ve ever read and are one of the most interesting books I’ve ever studied. You could debate on who the real victim of this novel is for years and still change your mind every other week. You were, most likely, my first introduction to proper gothic fiction and I’m sure you started my obsession, even if I didn’t know it at the time. You are a book that I will never get bored with and will recommend to everyone. You are everything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 17

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dscn7247Dear Northanger Abbey,

I have a question for you: why do so many people hate you? I seriously do not understand it. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen in general but I know a lot of people who are hardcore fans. And what confuses me more than their absolute adoration of her as a writer is that they all seem to share a dislike of you. Which is crazy. You’re the best thing she’s ever written. You are, by far, the most entertaining of the Austen novels I’ve read and you’re heroine is the one I found most endearing. I know everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennett but I always saw Catherine Morland as someone I may once have been.

Most book nerds have, unofficially, pronounced Belle from Beauty and the Beast as the icon of what we live for. She lives in her books and craves adventure so I get it. However, if we want to find a female character who really typifies what it means to be a book lover then it’s Catherine. She is so obsessed with what she reads that she imagines it happening around her. If she were living this day then she would be writing fanfiction and creating Tumblrs about her favourite ships. Belle has a pretentious side to her whilst Catherine is just straight up adorable. Naive, definitely, but her behaviour is totally forgivable. Totally understandable. I see people like her on Bookstagram all the time so I don’t see why more of them don’t adore her.

Maybe it’s just that modern audiences don’t get the parody? I know a lot of people who have read this and then gone on to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is great because Ann Radcliffe is a sensation. However, it means you don’t get the context until after the fact. If you go into this book without an understand of what very early gothic fiction was like then you’ll think it’s all just melodramatic nonsense. Instead of a very clever parody. They won’t fully appreciate how intricate it all is. How funny. How subversive. You don’t get enough credit.

Neither does your romantic hero. There’s a lot of love for Mr Darcy out there. A lot. Another thing I don’t get about Austen fans. Darcy isn’t the kind of man you fall in love with. Who is the kind of guy you fall for? Why, Henry Tilney, of course. Henry doesn’t take time to get used to. He’s charming, funny, sweet, and kind from the off set. He is patient with Catherine and forgives her for being a bit excitable. He lacks the good looks of someone like Willoughby or Wickham but he’s in no way unattractive. He loves his sister and is an avid reader. Basically, Henry Tilney is the perfect man. So why don’t more people see it?

I don’t understand. I’ll always love you. You were the book that made me give Jane Austen a second chance. I was sure I would never be able to fully appreciate anything that she wrote until you came along. Now, I’m willing to see more positives. I reread Sense and Sensibility a few years after I read you and I enjoyed it more. You were the book that finally made me see that there was more to Jane Austen. I can’t say that you’ve fully changed my opinion but you’ve made me more open minded. You were my Henry Tilney.
I am delighted with the book!
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 9

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img_4446Dear Wuthering Heights

(Set to the tune of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush)
Sat on my dusty, groaning shelf
You sat between the rest
You had a darkness dipped in Gothic black
So mean, so moody
How could I like you
When I wouldn’t try the classics?
Expected to, just hate you, too
But you changed my mind
Would not see it so imagine my surprise
When closing my wuthering, wuthering
Wuthering Heights
It’s true, I do, I love you
I’ve come through, I’m now sold
You’ve let me in your covers
It’s true, I do, I love you
I’ve come through, I’m now sold
You’ve let me in your covers
Laura
P.S
You know that thing when you have an interesting idea for a post and it turns into a massive headache. Yeah, that. But what I was trying to say in my quirky way is, I’m sorry I doubted you for so long. You’d have thought someone who was born so close to Bronte country would have more respect for your writing but, when I was younger, I always tried to avoid any books that people describe as “must read”. I was a knob who thought I knew better. Turns out, you’re one of the greatest pieces of gothic fiction I’ve read yet. Yes, I hate all your characters and don’t understand why women fantasise about Heathcliff (it’s weird what some bookish ladies are attracted to). But you are one of the most unexpectedly fun reading experiences I’ve ever read. You’re definitely one of my favourites. So thank you… and I’m sorry to you and Miss Bush for butchering your song.
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30 Books For My 30th – Number 7

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img_4430Dear Mary Wollstonecraft,

Today is International Women’s Day so there was really nobody else who I could write today’s letter to. Especially a few days after Jeremy Corbyn decided that it’s time a statue of you is built. You are Britain’s first feminist. You were the forerunner to the whole Suffragette movement. You’re the woman who started it all off. You stood up and demanded that women and men be equal. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is so stuffed full of wonderful quotes that I could just spend this whole post continually quoting from it.

I haven’t always been the best kind of feminist. Obviously, I’ve always been pro-women’s rights and pro-equality. However, I’ve experienced the kind of shyness that made it difficult to admit it. I’m painfully British so I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I didn’t want to make a fuss by going on about it too much. Even during my university years I openly tried to stay away from openly feminist literature just in case people thought I was stirring up trouble. Now? I don’t give a shit what people think. I’ve read your work so many times at this point that I had to learn something eventually.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” It’s your most oft quoted maxim and for such good reason. So many times do you find yourself having to explain to men too stubborn to listen that, no, as a feminist I don’t want to take rights from men but, instead, ensure all women have the same rights. I struggle to do it quite so eloquently as you did but I’ll always try. I realise that the feminist movement has moved on since you first published your responses to The Rights of Men but you’re still my inspiration. Having the strength, especially during the period in which you were writing, to stand up for yourself and your gender is something I can’t fathom. You continue to inspire me to be better. To continually fight. You’re everything we needed.

Although, despite all of this respect I can’t, in all honesty, say that I have loved you since I first heard your name. It wasn’t reading your political writing that caused me to truly embrace you. That came by getting to know you personally… I mean not personally, obviously. You’d been dead for a fair bit before I was born. But allow me to take some artistic licence for a second. During my postgraduate degree I read Letters Written During a Short Residence for one of my modules. Now I’ve always been a bit obsessed with reading other people’s letters: probably because I’m so bloody nosy.

What I wasn’t expecting was to completely fall for you. Your husband, William Godwin, once wrote the following quote: “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” Never have I agreed with Godwin more, although I would change the word “man” to “person” for obvious reasons. Your letters are emotional, intelligent and beautifully written. You bared your soul and, at times, it was heartbreaking. Yet you hold yourself with such grace that’s impossible not to love you. Despite your psychological pain, you engage with your audience and create a gripping narrative. Making it absolutely impossible for a young woman not to fall in love with you as Godwin once had.

And it’s getting out of control. Having read Mary and discussed it in my postgraduate dissertation I felt confident enough to recommend it to a friend. I knew almost instantly that she wouldn’t like it but couldn’t help it. You’re writing has wormed its way into my brain and has taken up residence. Other people should find out how good that feels. I could carry on writing this letter and talk about how important you are. How influential a figure you’ve been in British history. How vital you were to modern-day feminism. I could talk about how desperate I am to thrust a copy of your writing into the hands of young women so they can have the kind of enlightening experience that I once had. I could but I won’t. I will simply say, there is no woman I would rather be celebrating here today than you.
The beginning is always today,

Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 6

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img_4420Dear The Picture of Dorian Gray,

They say all women love a bad boy. Teenage girls? Phew, they can’t get enough of ’em. And you? You’re one of the biggest literary bad boys out there. I mean, you were once described by a magazine editor as containing a “number of things an innocent woman would make an exception to”. What kind of young girl could resist those bad boy credentials? Is it any wonder that I was obsessed with you? You were scandalous. You were immoral. You were going to turn my head and take me down a dark road. I couldn’t wait. And then I read you.

I’m not saying our first time was disappointing… it was just… not what I was expecting. You weren’t quite the bad guy I’d been lead to believe. Clearly you’d just read the ‘How to be a bad boy’ wikiHow page to get a few tips. Scandal? The only thing scandalous about you is how you maintained the reputation of being a dangerous book for so long. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t still like you. It was just like The Wizard of Oz; I’d pulled back the curtain to find nothing more than a rather tame novel that had gothic elements. Yes, there was something of a homoerotic undertone but it was nothing more scandalous than the volleyball scene in Top Gun.

What you are, Dorian Gray, is a wonderfully written tale that highlights the dangers of art for art’s sake. It is a tale that cautions against morality rather than promoting it. Any hints of Dorian’s immoral behaviour are hardly blatant and the suggestion of homosexual desire is pretty tame. You were not something for me to fear. You are story of a young man who goes to great lengths to preserve the only thing he cares about: his beauty. A man who wants to continue being the belle of the ball whilst being able to give in to his every desire. No matter how dark or sinful they were.

I still loved you but in a different way. You are classic Oscar Wilde. Full of quotable lines and wonderful witticisms. When I first read you I highlighted and memorised so many quotes. You know, cause I was a super deep and intelligent teenager. I got you. I got you more than anyone had when you first published and I, probably, got you more than anyone ever had. You were the first book I ever proclaimed to be my favourite. It was a bit of cliché and you were no doubt part of my attempt to create an image for myself as a creative and intelligent teen. But all teenagers are stupid.

Our first time may have been a bit rocky but we’ve found our rhythm. We’ve come to understand each other’s wants and desires. We’ve come to understand how we fit together. Maybe that initial spark has gone and you’re more comfortable and familiar these days but I still love you. Even now that I no longer have the desire to seem deep, well-read, and pretentious. How could I not? There is so much within your pages to feast upon. I always feel full and satisfied after reading. Even your truly horrendous film adaptation couldn’t scare me off. You meant so much to me that I named the fish I bought at university Dorian. Yes, I claimed it was partly to do with Finding Nemo too but, let’s be honest, I was a pretentious English literature student. Nobody saw through my bullshit.

You my teen love. My first real grown-up book love. You were an older guy, more experienced. But you treated me well. Better than I had thought you would have done considering your reputation. Unfortunately, I gained some insight and experience myself. I know more about the world and I’ve met books that satisfy me in ways you never could. It doesn’t mean I won’t always look back on you fondly. You were the perfect choice for my first favourite book. You were everything I needed.
The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold

Laura

 

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Tuesday’s Reviews –

the-oscars-759You find me feeling really annoyed today. As you know, I had intended to finish watching all of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award before the Oscars. I managed it but failed to get down my predictions for the awards. To be honest, I was so tired after work on Sunday that I fell asleep. It’s a problem I often have. What can I say? I love to nap. If I had published my predictions I would have been pretty much 100% accurate. The only one I refused to call was Best Support Actress because it was a tough call. Every other main category, I got right. Of course, saying this without proof is meaningless. However, I was one of the few people who correctly saw that Three Billboards wouldn’t win Best Picture. Not that it was a terrible film; it just isn’t an Oscars film. The Shape of Water was the obvious winner. It was beautifully made and beautifully performed. It was an all-rounder. The only one that might have beaten it? Lady Bird. Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman were, basically, unstoppable. And Sam Rockwell. Sorry to anybody else in that category but he was the star. My only upset at the awards was the lack of award for Greta Gerwig. I knew Guillermo Del Toro would win but it would have been a great move for the Academy to give the female director her due. It just goes to show, no matter how well #Timesup and #Metoo are doing, there is still a long way to go for gender equality. And let’s not even get started on racial equality. Hollywood may be improving but it’s still a man’s world.

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 3

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dscn6980Dear The Monk,

January 25th 2018. Mark it in your calendar, my friend. That was the date I openly said, for the first time, those three little words: “Is my favourite”. I don’t know what came over me to be quite so bold. I’m normally not good at making the first move but, after 11 years in each other’s lives, it felt right to make it official. You are my favourite book … for now at least. I’ve never been decisive enough to have a favourite before so I can’t exactly promise it’ll be forever. But it’s for now. And for someone as uncomfortable with commitment as me, that means something.

I have to be honest with you, this has come as something of a shock to me. Particularly because you didn’t make the greatest first impression on me. It was sometime in the academic year of 07/08. I was in my first year of University and you were part of my Romanticism module’s reading list. I was a typical undergraduate: too much fun and not enough reading. I also had a massive crush on my tutor so wasn’t exactly concentrating on the books for most of my seminars. I read most of you and, from what I remember, I liked you. I mean, I enjoyed you enough to write about you in my final exam so you must have made something of an impression on me. But not a huge one.

It wasn’t until my postgraduate degree some 3 years later that I truly started to love you. In fact, and I hate to tell you this, I don’t think it was completely because of you that I fell in love with you. I mean you’re great and everything but it was your history that interested me. I came back to you because of 3 pieces of criticism that were written about you or linked to you. The first, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, praised you and critiqued you in equal measure. The other two hated you and your kind. One, by Thomas James Mathias, was outraged that an MP and had published something so scandalous. The second, an anonymous letter entitled ‘The Terrorist System of Novel-Writing’, hated all books of gothic horror and related them to the French Revolution. (Incidentally, that letter is, by far, one of the greatest pieces of correspondence that I’ve ever read.) It is from those 3 pieces that my postgraduate dissertation was born and my love for you cemented.

You scared the shit out of people, man. How could I not love you? You were described as politically dangerous. You’re not even that good a book in the grand scheme of things! Yet everyone was up in arms about you. I adore you for that. I’m not sure what it says about me that I see myself in a book but I see myself in you. You’re melodramatic, misunderstood, and a bit of a mess. Just like me. You mean well, you’re fun, and you make an impact. A bit like me. I’ve never believed in the idea of a human soul mate but book soul mates? You’re the one I’d been looking for.

Yes, you’re a bit all over the place and there are bits of you that don’t make sense or simply don’t fit. Coleridge was right that you had more potential that you don’t quite live up to. Your language is as times poetic and brilliant. At others, it’s abysmal. But you’re clever; you just hide it really well. You have a great political message regarding the aftermath of the French Revolution and the scene where an angry mob storm a convent is mesmerising. I could have written my entire dissertation on that passage alone.

Reading you is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. You’re insane. These days, you won’t be as widely read, which is unfortunate. I’ve bonded with people over you better than I have with most books. When you meet someone who has also read you there is an instant connection thanks to memories of your “beauteous orb” and wanking monk. I’ve had conversations with an ex-colleague about you that have left our co-workers visibly scared and confused. We’ve a history of inappropriate Facebook posts on each other’s walls inspired by your pages. Not many books can do bring people together like that. But you can. I’m so glad I read you. I’m just sorry it took me so long to realise what had been staring me in the face this whole time.

You are mine, and Heaven itself cannot rescue you from my power,

Laura

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