Crooked Heart

As a child I read a lot but most of the time I was rereading; if I liked a book I wanted to hear the story again, it was comforting to know what was coming up and also to take something else from the story when the element of surprise had been removed.
This is not something I can enjoy doing now, I want new, I want more and I can never imagine a time when there isn’t another book waiting for me.
That being said, one of the books I reread a LOT when I was young was Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight, Mr Tom. I still have the copy I read and read and it is certainly a little dog eared in places. The theme of that being evacuation and I cannot believe I have not read more fiction around the subject, let’s be honest war time and children’s evacuation to safety is completely fraught with emotion and potential. When Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans was on my potential books to review list this month I jumped at the words ‘blitz-drama’, intrigued as to where this one might lead.

Having lived most of his life with his godmother, ten year old Noel is left out of sorts when he loses his ageing carer to dementia and is evacuated on the second wave with his classmates from London to St Albans, finding himself landed with a morally compromised Vee, who is forever trying to make a fast buck, her self-involved son and her mute letter writing mother.
Noel, brought up and educated by a sharp minded former suffragette seems to be the only thing that has the potential to bring order to Vee’s life as it regularly spirals away from her and she may be the best thing for a slightly socially inept, yet fiercely intelligent, young boy.
Watching them get to know one another through the scrapes in and out of London is a pleasure and Evans offers a wonderful selection of phrases to paint the picture of their lives that left me feeling attached to the characters and a little saddened that the book had to end.
An often fast paced tale, with heart and humour, I would certainly say this warrants the praise it is currently receiving.

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The Art of Asking

The Art of Asking is as much about the modern music business, the value of art and a guide to surviving the internet as it is about Amanda Palmer, her cabaret punk band or her world touring tendencies. A memoir inspired by a TED talk* she gave following her triumph in the world of crowdsourcing, a twelve minute (ahem, thirteen) talk on the Art of Asking in the world of performance turned into an ode to asking in an assortment of relationships, not least the one she has with writer husband, Neil Gaiman.

While initially feeling idiosyncratic in style, Amanda seemed to take root in my mind by the third chapter and when later in the book she suffers some disappointment while trying to trust the world I felt that too. We see her transform from a college grad with more bravado than recommended and a job as a human statue to a woman putting her faith in her crowd, but also dealing with the ramifications of not pleasing everyone in an age when the internet is full of anonymity with the ability to say quite literally anything. While you may not always agree with Amanda’s actions or words I think she does really highlight how terrifying it can be to be vilified online and how despite having a crowd of ardent and 99% fantastic fans the internet can turn very dark very quickly.

Her references to the ‘Fraud Police’, the ones who live in your head and basically call you out on your existence and purpose felt like an acknowledgement to the world that people are mean to themselves and therefore it is our jobs to be nice to each other. As she would say; ‘I see you. You are real.’

I didn’t know much about Amanda Palmer before reading the book but it really did not matter, even without an interest in her music this book is fascinating and features some pretty inspiring characters and stories.

In other news, I wish to be friends with her and own a ukulele.

These may be side effects of the book.

* Watch this. No really. WATCH THIS.

It is really interesting and a great precursor to the book which you will of course want to read :]

 

(another review of this book can be found here)

The Virgin Suicides

Following reading Middlesex by author Jeffrey Eugenides I opted not to track down his other novels not because I didn’t like Middlesex but because I really did. He seemed to create this complex world fraught with identity issues that just seemed to inhabit my brain for the duration – one of my friends is very well aware how much I loved this book, I barely shut up about it!  It’s been a couple of years since I read Middlesex and I thought I would try his first offering, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993 and later turned into the well received 1999 film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola*.

Set in 1970’s Michigan the story is told to us in retrospect by a man who was once part of the stereotypically voyeuristic neighbourhood boys obsessed with the odd and distant nature of the five Lisbon girls, leading up to and the aftermath of their suicides. Their role or lack there of in the girl’s lives despite their desire and attempts to touch them, both physically and emotionally, is told to us through day to day teenage existence and dry comedy, all tinged with a deep sadness which reflects how far five girls, not of this world long, had the potential to effect their surroundings. This is shown in the story through the evolution of not only their family home but also the surrounding neighbourhood and its occupants.

Enjoying such a subject doesn’t seem quite right and I wouldn’t say it had the drive of a ‘page-turner’, again due to the nature of the subject, but there is a style that Eugenides seems to embody that just makes you get lost in a world. To me his books feel like looking at an old photograph but having someone behind you to tell you a part of the back story, not all of it but just enough to keep you involved.

It’s not quite as good as Middlesex but it certainly leaves a mark.

*always assume I haven’t seen the film.

The MaddAddam Conundrum

Following the discovery of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye novel in a local charity shop I have been wondering which of her many novels to read next… and then MaddAddam came out to rave reviews and I thought that this could be the one. I have been umming and ahhhing as to whether I should read the other two in the trilogy first. It wasn’t until I read a review in The Times that I was persuaded it actually could be an experiment as to how well it stands alone.

So, I read the introduction and then the summary of the first book (Oryx & Crake), followed by the summary of the second (Year of the Flood) and went straight online to order them. I am not missing the chance to read two outragious sounding books just so I can read the last one ASAP.

Following finishing Dangerous Women Part 1, a collection of tales edited by George R. R. Martin & Martin Dozois, I will be picking up Oryx & Crake and enjoying the ride this triology offers.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little excited!

Battle Royale

It may have taken months but I have finally finished Battle Royale, the epic and pretty horrific dystopian novel by Koushun Takami. This is one of the few books I have read because I have seen the film, both of which seem to have a similar cult following.

Completed in 1996 but not published until 1999 it wasn’t long until the film followed in 2000 along with a Manga series by the same author. A best selling book, a highly grossing film this is a tale that clearly caused controversy and in turn success.

I don’t know much about films, they are not necessarily my thing, but what I took from the Battle Royale film was that the plot is solid but I needed more characterisation… enter the book. It is gripping, edge of the seat stuff, while making each student terrifyingly realistic.

In a world where Japan is a police state and democracy and freedom of speech are not permitted the government uses a ‘battle royale’, a fight to the death, as a show of dominance over their teen population.  Annually a random class is chosen, nobody knows which or when but they are chosen and any form of resistance by family, friends or by their teacher is quickly extinguished with gun fire.

This year there are 42 students, 21 males and 21 females, all but one from the same class. Gassed and taken to an island at an undisclosed location they are fitted with tracking devices and given a pack containing the bare minimum required to survive and a random ‘weapon’; guns, knives, miscellaneous outdoor survival gadgets. It’s luck of the draw. Rules are put in place. Escape is futile. The only option is kill or be killed.

The ‘game’ ends only when there is one person left standing.

It is the original and gritty Hunger Games.

As the reader you are supplied with a map of the island and a list of all students and their number in a list entitled male and female. Firstly, the best books have maps and secondly the list of names was very handy as a lot of the student’s names are similar or it is difficult to interpret gender.

My initial thoughts were that the names would make it difficult to follow the story but this was far from correct. Some of the names are seen so regularly you know exactly who they are, some less so but their back stories make them memorable, others don’t have the chance to last long into the games and therefore become irrelevant pretty quickly.

While gruesome at times – I read one page with one eye closed in the hope it would seem less horrible – it just enhances the desperation of the situation and it doesn’t seem gratuitous because of the characterisation and a very engaging and fast paced plot.

If you’ve read the book I highly recommend you see the film.

If you’ve seen the film I highly recommend you read the book.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

This year, mainly because of the introduction of book reviews for work, I have been trying to embrace all manner of different genres. The opportunity to open myself up to styles I would not have previously thought of is mainly due to the fact that if I am lucky I get hold of the books for free. So, when the opportunity to review a YA fiction novel with a focus on circa 1950’s America and specifically the Civil Rights Movement I jumped at it (a particularly horrible A2 level in history hasn’t managed to put me off a clearly disturbing and very real subject).

Lies We Tell Ourselves is Robin Talley’s debut novel that opens from the compelling perspective of Sarah, a black girl corralled into joining 9 of her friends at a formerly all white high school in Virginia. We see Sarah struggle with the desire to be mature and strong in the face of emotional and physical violence on a daily basis. What Talley does that I thought particularly fascinating was also to show the views of Linda, a student already at that school, brought up in a traditional Southern State family with a staunch anti-desegregationist father who has added anger issues to boot. All of a sudden it becomes quite difficult to dislike Linda for the views she seems to hold but doesn’t fully believe. She is a victim of ‘tradition’ and her father’s particularly belligerent views on equal rights.

The additional element of the growing, confusing feelings the girls develop for each other felt slightly shoe-horned into the story and while not wholly far fetched didn’t add what I think the author intended to the plot. Linda and Sarah’s friendship is abhorred enough without the need for the additional drama of the girls loving one another in an already desperately unforgiving environment.

A positive of this plot addition however is that tackling discrimination in any form should be applauded and although not my particular favourite element of the book Talley does take it on with respect for the subject and the need for historical accuracy.

The subject is gritty, the characters are powerful and I think that this, on the whole, is how a YA novel should be. Thought Provoking.

7/10

The Monogram Murders

From her own admission Sophie Hannah would say she has not tried to mimic or replicate Agatha Christie’s style in this Hercule Poirot offering that has been blessed by Christie’s estate, and even if she had I would not be the person to tell you how it compares. This book is my maiden voyage into Agatha Christie’s tales and I can only judge it on its own merit.

Through the narration of Mr Catchpool, Poirot is described as an articulate and precise man who rises to many a challenge and forgets not even the smallest of details. Between Poirot and catchpool we get a marvellously intriguing mystery that despite their two very different styles, and possible competencies, leads to a winding mystery that had me guessing right until the end.

The story had an antiquated quality, which is relevant due to the 1920’s setting, and focuses heavily on the uncovering of faux alibis and treacherous pasts and, regardless of the purpose of the book, I now want to pick up an original Agatha Christie novel… just to see.

I’d call that work well done to a clearly very brave author.

Man at the Helm

Nina Stibbe’s debut novel follows her successful epistolary memoir, Love, Nina, and I truly believe this book should be received with the same acclaim.

Following a far from pleasant divorce, Lizzie and her siblings move out to a village with their ponies, dog (Princess Debbie Reynolds) and their play writing, whisky drinking and initially purposeless mother in tow. The fear of becoming ‘wards of court’ leads them to the need for a plan and the plan that forms is to find the most appropriate man to be ‘at the helm’ of their family.

Set in the 1970’s and told from the perspective of the middle child, Lizzie, this book is laugh out loud funny. We follow the family from wealth and village exile to poverty and begrudging acceptance in addition to the ups and downs of their mother’s dalliances with men both on and off the ‘man list’.

Although a little slow initially I did end up reading the second half in one sitting and by that point I had a real emotional attachment to this slightly mad family and their array of worries, upsets and life’s idiosyncrasies.

 

8/10

 

The Giver/ We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

I seem to have stepped out of the habit of writing, yet again, recently. So I thought maybe today I would try and get back to that place where I think words are worth writing and maybe, just maybe, my words are worth reading.

 

The last couple of books I have read at work have been enjoyable, thought provoking and one of which I cannot believe has been around for so long that I have NEVER heard of it. Now I have read it of course it is quite literally everywhere and now there is even a film. Who am I kidding? There is always a film.

 

 

So quick run down.

 

The Giver – Lois Lowry.

A book that was recommended to me by a friend who was made to read it when she was 11 or 12 (not sure of American grades) at school. I think if I were a teacher or someone in charge of all things literary curriculum I would certainly plop this one right at the top of the list! Being written for children, it seems to simplify language yet still throw words that can only enhance vocabulary and really hits hard at the topic of our world and how devastating and yet brilliant it is. The message for me was basic. Be good. Be kind. Don’t let’s lose our individuality and real, body and heart felt feelings for the sake of wars and bloodshed that surely can be stopped. Less hate and more love.

Obviously this is a simplified opinion of the book and as always with older, more defined and set into history, books I struggle to really assess my opinion and differentiate it from all the many opinions of other’s that litter the web and general media.

I think this is more telling about me then the book itself.

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler.

This is Fowler’s most recent offering to the world and it is my first reach into her writing. In hindsight it turns out I had heard of a few of her books but have never been pressed to pick any of them up before now.

I must admit that a lot of the fiction I have read this year has been down to my magpie-esque fascination with long and short lists for literary prizes, this one coming from the Man Booker Prize 2014 long list. Personally I think it was one of my better decisions.

The story of Rosemary Cooke’s life is told to us from the perspective of Rosemary herself and my, she is one of the most confused, self deprecating narrators I have read yet I found her likeable, often very funny and on a regular basis I wished I was friends with her and yet wanted to shake her furiously all within the space of ten pages. This story is engaging, is thought provoking and yet profoundly different from anything I have read in a long time.

I don’t want to give anymore details. Don’t read about this book, just read it.

I want you to have the same experience I had with this one.

PaperBackWriter

 

 

 A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

 Ah now this is a predicament. One that has made me think and also made me WISH that either I was a literary minded witch or that I could meet one.

In my head she is petite enough to live in amongst the books in libraries and lost book shops slowly drawing folk to the books that will enhance their lives. She is the reason for the pull of a book and sometimes when she slips up (she is clumsy) a book literally jumps out at you…

Any way on to the conundrum that has been presented.

While I think everyone who has an appreciation for the great and good in literature will have some desire to be that profound, potentially misunderstood, author there must be something fantastic about being a prolific and successful writer person. Knowing that people are waiting with bated breath to read your next offering must be amazing and terrifying.

I guess for the sake of making a living (sensible) and making people happy (aw bless) I would ask my fairy witch folk to make me a paperback writer. It sounds like a lovely calling.

 

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