books, reviews

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 – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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5_star_rating_system_4_and_a_half_starsI often worry about books that everyone tries to force me to read. There have been so many occasions where I’ve read a super hyped book and been utterly disappointed. When my friend gave me a copy of Gone Girl it was accompanied by the fact that Molly Ringwald had loved it. You’ll probably remember from my ’30 Books for My 30th’ series that I never finished Gone Girl because it bored me to tears. Everyone I know raves about how good it is and how shocking the twist is. I feel like they must be reading a different book to me. I could see where it was going from the start. Then there was The Girl on the Train, which was celebrated as the new Gone Girl and named as a “must read”. Another super obvious and boring psychological thriller. I hated it but I did finish it. So, when I saw Eleanor Oliphant all over Instagram I became suspicious. It started to win awards and a friend of mine kept insisting that I read it. Still, I wouldn’t let myself believe. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a cheap copy in a charity shop that I decided it was time to read it. Would it be as good as everyone would have me believe?

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books, reviews

Book Review – Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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Can you fucking believe it? I’m posting another book review only a week after my last one. It’s insane. I’m actually doing this reading thing properly. If you’re not careful I might actually become a proper book blogger. You know, the kind that posts book reviews more often than vague ramblings or book tags. Probably don’t hold your breath but who knows. Still, lets not dwell on it too much or my progress will be ruined. To the review! I started reading Less last week because I didn’t feel that I was really paying enough attention to LGBTQ+ reads during Pride. It was actually this irrational (but justified maybe?) fear that my reading wasn’t diverse enough that caused me to buy Less after I had bypassed it on so many occasions. I even bought it full price so determined was I to read something appropriate this month. I have to y, I was shocked by how easily I got into the story and always looked forward to my nightly visit to the world of Arthur Less. Maybe it helps that the character of Arthur kinda reminds me of someone I work with but, really, that’s probably only because he’s the only 50 year-old gay man who I know personally. But, hey, it got me reading so who cares…

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30booksformy30th, books, books that shaped my life, poetry

30 Books For My 30th – Number 29

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img_4628Dear John Donne,

What happened to you, man? You used to be the man. I mean you once tried to convince a woman to sleep with you using a fucking flea. You were one of the original players, dude. Legendary. The fact that, whilst we studied you at the age of 16, my elderly English teacher had to explain the “sucking on country pleasures” pun to one of my clueless and naive classmates just makes me love you more. There’s nothing funnier than a woman nearing, if not having surpassed, retirement age trying so hard not to say the word “cunt” to her A Level class but being unable to explain it in any other way. It’s one of my favourite school memories. I kind of adored her anyway but that really settled it.

So, yeah. I had a lot of fun reading your poetry at 16. It was hilarious. Also, it’s not as if they’re bad poems. I actually really like them. I’d started to get more into poetry by that point anyway (it was after my first day with the Ancient Mariner) but you were accessible and different. Pretty clever stuff. But, it was your way with the ladies that really captivated my friends and I. We thought you were great. I mean talk about using your powers for evil, John. I know poetry has always been used in the pursuit of romance but you skipped the love hearts and got straight into the bedroom. You were the ultimate bro. You were a legend.

Well, until my further education introduced me to the yawn fest that is your later work. And I get it. You always struggled with your religion but don’t worry about it. Don’t turn your back on the man you once were. I’m sure God would have appreciated your resourcefulness. Using your talents. Your God-given talents. Of course, I have nothing against these poems from a literary point of view. They’re good. They’re just not fun. And I always associated you with fun. It’s like watching comic actors/comedians doing serious acting roles. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s always a little bit disappointing.

You’re like Eddie Izzard. I love Eddie Izzard and think he’s one of the funniest people ever. His comedy is bizarre but so hilarious. Nowadays, you only ever see Eddie popping up talking about politics. In theory I have no problem with this and think he talks a lot of sense. However, I still kind of wish he was still talking about cake or death. Or like Michael Sheen. I have huge love for Michael Sheen and think he’s one of the greatest actors ever. So, it’s always a bit of upsetting to see him on TV talking about how Port Talbot and not pretending to be Tony Blair. Not bad but upsetting.

You see what I’m saying? No? Here’s one more stupid, pop culture analogy for you. You’re like Kings of Leon. I think Youth and Young Manhood, they’re very first album, is one of the greatest all-round albums I’ve ever heard and I, personally, don’t think any of their subsequent stuff has ever lived up. I’ve enjoyed a few songs here and there but have never been able to listen to full albums in one sitting. So I, basically, just listen to their early stuff. Just as I, basically, just enjoy your early poems. You see? Simple.

I’m glad I’ve finally taken the time to explain it to you. I feel like this letter will only bring us closer together.
More than kisses, letters mingle souls,
Laura

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30booksformy30th, books, poetry

30 Books For My 30th – Book 27

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dscn7366Dear Byron,

I don’t even know if I really do love your poetry. I love you as a person and your reputation so much that I can no longer distinguish between the two. You’re like the Sean Bean of Romantic poetry. I have such a great love for Sean Bean that I have no judgement over his films anymore. I can’t separate the awesome Northern badass for the awful characters he’s playing these days. Similarly, whenever I read your poems I just think of the rock star you once were and can’t tell if I actually like them. Chances are your poems are much more impressive than Sean Bean’s recent filmography but, hopefully, you get my point.

You see, I’m already getting flustered talking to you. I’m like all of those women who believed you were writing love poetry to them. You were the first rock star poet, man. You were like Tom Jones. Did women throw their underwear at you too? Did you appear someone to read your poetry and loads of horny women would just throw their undergarments at you? They did faint in your presence after all. You turned all of your female fans into the heroine of a gothic novel. How could I not love you? I’d probably have been one of them.

But I do, also, appreciate your poetry. Although, you are responsible for one of the most embarrassing moments in my university career. During my third year I took a half-course on you and Shelley. I was excited. I already loved you and I took the chance to do anything linked to Romanticsm. In one of our seminars we were tasked to analyse small sections of the poem Don Juan. My friend and I were given Dudù’s dream sequence, which pre-seminar I had only skimmed over. It took us both a ridiculously long time to understand what was going on. Our tutor thought we were both idiots and I felt so naive. Still, we got there in the end.

I’m not stupid enough to believe that you are the best poet to come out of the Romantic period but I believe that you, more than the others, really sum up what it meant to be a poet of that era. You rejected so many social norms and did what you wanted. You embraced your celebrity, you wanted a fun and exciting life, and you were an artist in your own way. More than anything, you’re fun. I mean, what would vampire fiction have been without you? John Polidori based the first ever true fictional vampire on you. You’re the reason we have Dracula, dude. You’re quite a guy. I’ve never felt the same way reading the poets of Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth as I do reading yours. You may not be the greatest but you’re the most entertaining. And the one that caused the biggest stir. Nowadays, women may be more likely to swoon over pretty-boy Keats. If we’re talking about the real Romantic pinup then, in my heart I know, it’s you.

There is no instinct like that of the heart,
Laura

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30booksformy30th, books

30 Books For My 30th – Number 23

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dscn7313Dear Sherlock Holmes,

Back in 2012, you were awarded the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed literary human. According to the GWR people you have been depicted in film and television 254 times, What an achievement. Especially considering your own author was so sick of you that he killed you off in cold blood. But as we all know, you have always been a fan favourite and they campaigned to bring you back from the dead. And now, apparently, we still can’t get rid of you.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest this is a bad thing. I’m a big fan of your books and enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch’s face enough to watch the BBC adaptation. I get why the books have last as long as they have. Arthur Conan Doyle tackles each mystery with the same medical practicality that he would a patient’s ailment. He has written some clever, memorable, and exciting crime books. They aren’t exactly dark or, indeed, very taxing to read. They aren’t all that difficult to fathom in the end. But they are incredibly put together and you can all the pieces coming to place as you turn the page.

There is a great sense of nostalgia and British-ness within these stories too. It’s something that makes it so comforting to read. They totally encapsulate the period in which they were written. The stories set in London are such wonderful representations of society at the time. The characters all feeling real. You tell us so much more about the time in which you were written than you really do about your main characters. And that’s, really, how it should be. You represented the fear at the time for the growing population in London as it became the fastest growing city in the world (I think but don’t quote me on it). You’re well worth a read.

But, I don’t get what’s happening to you, Sherlock. You’ve always been a great detective who can pick up on subtle social cues to find out things about people. You’ve always seen things most people don’t. And you’ve always had amazing skills when it comes to disguise, weaponry, and self-defence. However, you’re an arsehole. A genuine, honest to goodness arse. But you’ve become a Hollywood hero. Women on Tumblr are obsessed with you. They want to try to change you. You’re up there with Mr Rochester and Heathcliff for most absurd literary crush. It’s all Steven fucking Moffat’s fault, of course. In updating you for modern-day you had to become someone capable of falling in love. Capable of feeling real feelings. It’s ruined you.

And, the worst part is, you’d mostly hate it. You did have feelings in the books but it happened so rarely. Rare glimpses of care and sympathy. The rest of the time you were just a brain. But not anymore. Now you’re a dynamic and sexy hero. A sexy hero that you either want to be or want to be with. The whole franchise has gone a bit insane and I can’t imagine what Arthur Conan Doyle would think. He hated you enough before so what the hell would he think about you now?

The problem with you being portrayed so many times is that each new time there has to be something unique. Something that makes you stand out from the rest. And with every subsequent adaptation we move a little further away from who you were. For proof, just look at this awful obsession people have about you and Irene Adler. Why is everyone so keen to make people fall in love? You met her once. She was in one short story. But suddenly, thanks to Steven fucking Moffat, she has become the love of your life. It’s so frustrating. I enjoy Sherlock as much as the next person but I don’t like it as a fan of the books. I like it in spite of being a fan of the books.

The distinction is clear,
Laura

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30booksformy30th, books, Roald Dahl

30 Books For My 30th – Number 21

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img_4561Dear Fantastic Mr Fox,

I realise as a book lover that I should probably have been more drawn to Matilda when I was younger. I should probably have seen myself somewhere in the tale of a girl who loves books and teaching people a lesson. They’re kind of my favourite things to do. And I did love her. I mean she’s basically the poster child for the eternally bookish and the book is the same age as I am. Still, when I was younger, it was you, Fantastic Mr Fox, that captivated me so much as a child. And who wouldn’t love this epic story of good triumphing over evil… especially when that good is a really cunning fox?

As a child I was part of pretty tight-knit group of friends. It comprised of myself, my twin sister, and out best friend at the time. We spent nearly all of time together. We loved the same things. And one of those things was you. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being driven somewhere by our friend’s mum and begging her to let us listen to the cassette tape of you audio book. We must have worn that tape out considering the amount we listened to it. I’m pretty sure we would speak along with it and everything. We must have driven her mother insane. But we loved it.

There is no writer who can quite match up to Roald Dahl for being able to give a child what they want from a book. He never crosses the line with his darkness but he isn’t afraid to scare kids a bit. Boggis and Bunce and Bean are grotesque characters. They are genuinely disgusting and vicious and that’s really refreshing for a child. As a young reader, you aren’t really used to characters who are so realistically evil. You are used to fairy tale villains who are obviously just fictional. You know, evil queens who kill people who are more beautiful than they are. Or evil stepmothers who hate their beautiful stepdaughters. Basically we’re used to villains who are obsessed with looks and nothing else.

But you were different. You presented us with an image that was understandable in the real world. A group of farmers that wanted to kill a wild animal. And, let’s be honest, they were justified. I love Mr Fox, don’t get me wrong, but he did keep eating their livestock. I always wanted him to succeed but I could totally get why they were a bit miffed. This isn’t normal for children’s literature. You don’t get evil people who it is, on some deep deep level, okay to sympathise with… just a little bit. I worry I’m coming across as the kind of person who wants to see people kill foxes. I’m not. I love them. Mostly because of you; partly because of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Love them. Still, I’d be annoyed if one kept eating my chickens just to piss me off.

You are as clever and well-written as any other Roald Dahl book but there was obviously something so wonderful about you that we all kept coming back to. The cynical and realistic part of me wants to say it was because we all just bloody loved animals. It’s true. Part of the reason I love Aladdin so much is because Jasmine has a fucking tiger. I’ve wanted to be her all my life. But, I also like to think, in my nostalgic and dreamy way, that we knew then that you were special. That we knew you were a simple story told in a truly Dahl-esque style. That you were funny and scary at the same time. That you were rich in detail despite being so short. That you showed us that it’s important to stick up for yourselves. That it’s so easy to be underestimated and you can use that to your advantage. That you were more than just the tale of a fox being able to outsmart a group of farmers.

But probably not. We probably just loved that you were about a fox and that you got your tail shot off. Oh, and that rhyme is bloody memorable.
To Mr Fox! Long may he live!
Laura

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book review, books, reviews

Book Review – Wizards and Robots by Will.I.Am and Brian David Johnson

IMG_42445_star_rating_system_4_stars1As a book lover your requirements for reading change every time you pick up a new book. Sometimes you want to be challenged. Sometimes you want to be lazy. Sometimes you just need to be taken away from the world around you and forget about life’s worries. It all depends on a whole bunch of factor’s that might be affecting you as you stand in a bookshop/ browse online. However, there are times in your life when you come face-to-face with a book that you can neither justify nor walk away from. For me, that time was a few weeks ago and that book was this one. I was first attracted by the holographic cover. Was further pulled in by the hilariously simplistic yet superbly effective title Wizards and Robots. Finally, I was inescapably hooked as soon as I read that Will.I.Am was a co-author. Reader, I married it… ahem, I mean bought it. I am unapologetic to have picked up this book instantly without knowing anything about it and, also, for doing so expecting (nay hoping) for it to be shit.

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 20

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dscn7296Dear 1984,

I’m a liar. Or at least I was a liar. For more years than I’d care to admit to I lied about having read you. Don’t judge me. I was a teenage literary student who hadn’t read one of the most revered books of all time. How could I possibly admit to not having read Orwell’s classic? So I didn’t. I not only pretended that I’d read you but that I loved you. I had discussions with friends about you. I argued in your favour. It was ridiculous. But I got away with. In fact, it was so easy that I decided that I could continue to put you off. It seemed like a massive hassle when I was so good at bullshitting.

I eventually did read you and I enjoyed you. I think I always had a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t love you as much as I’d always pretended but I ignored it. I’d finally read the book that so many people loved. The ultimate in dystopian fiction. I finally felt worthy of the title of book nerd. Even if I did, secretly, just wish I’d read Animal Farm again. That nagging feeling of doubt continued to get to me. That gnawing in the back of my brain that said “1984 isn’t actually that good” was impossible to shake. So, a couple of years ago, I reread you. And I came to a decision.

You aren’t a great novel. But you aren’t a bad novel either. I think there are a lot of great ideas at play in this work and I appreciate your overall message. I get the point of Orwell trying to point out the dangers of totalitarianism and I understand that you hold an important place in literary history. I get it. But all of that cleverness under the surface doesn’t change the fact that, really 1984, you aren’t that great a book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that on my last read through I was bored. I didn’t even finish you! I just couldn’t do it.

However, I understand that it would be wrong to totally dismiss you. So I’m using a phrase that Orwell himself discusses in great detail. You are a good bad book. Orwell defines this terms as:

the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously

Which I think sums up my feelings about you, 1984. I love you as an idea and I love so many aspects of you. There are plenty of moments that I think are relevant today and your narrative never fails to start some sort of discussion. You are a book that never fails to excite me in some way. However, I find that I can’t really take you seriously. You can’t deny that you are flawed, right?

I mean you’re so melodramatic and kind of ludicrous. There are so many parts of the plot that just seem insane and absolutely unworkable. We all know that Big Brother is a very obvious caricature of Stalin, yes, but there are aspects of his government that just wouldn’t work. It’s not a system with any kind of longevity. Plus, I can’t help but feel that Orwell has been a bit too obvious with the whole analogy thanks to his powerful hatred of communism. It just lacks the necessary subtlety to always work.

You also lack a lot of subtlety in terms of writing. Orwell is clumsy and long-winded. I mean think of the huge section where we sit and watch Winston reading a book. I think I skipped most of it in my last read. I can’t help but feel that there was a better way to get this information across to the reader. There is so much detail piled in here to get Orwell’s point across that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the story. And don’t even get me started on the attempt to realise a Cockney accent. It’s mega cringe.

And I’m only saying this because you’re still a good enough book that it won’t matter. You’ve changed the world of literary and you’ve changed the world in general. You have seeped into society. You’ve changed our language. You’ve empowered people to stand up for themselves. You’ve forced us to see the negatives in front of our eyes. You’re also not completely terribly written. There are some passages of stunning descriptions of your dystopian world. You have endured for good reason. But, it would be amiss of me not to point out that you are flawed. That’s probably what makes you so impressive. For something so ridiculous to be so powerful is, perhaps, the true definition of a literary classic. So, I’ll continue to defend you but I’ll be doing so well-aware that beneath your legend there is the frail, flawed body. You look like the Disney Hercules after his training but are, in fact, Disney Hercules before his training. Still a demi-God but a much less impressive one.
Confession is not betrayal
Laura

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30booksformy30th, books

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

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