Monday, 25 September 2017

RIP XII: Book The First: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Ughhhhhhh. This book was SO GOOD, you don't even know, but Imma try and explain it to you. First, a little background- it's been so long that I can't even remember when I bought this book, but I know for a fact it's been on my RIP pile for the last 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I feel like I left it on there quite a while because I have a vague memory of seeing the Matt Damon film and not especially liking it (Gwyneth Paltrow is in it, which explains a lot... but not why I bought the book anyway) and who is going to read a book under such circumstances?

I WAS A FOOL.

The absolute number one strength of this book is the way it gets you to sympathise with a literal murderer. The titular Mr Ripley (Tom) is in a certain amount of trouble in the US when he stumbles across the father of an old acquaintance of his. Said acquaintance has been abroad in Italy for quite some time, and his father basically just wants him to come home. Tom volunteers himself to talk to Dickie (the son) and gets sent to Italy for free with $500 worth of travellers cheques and basically the promise of a gay old time. After he locates Dickie, it becomes clear that Tom isn't the most natural charmer (unlike Dickie) and it is this which starts of his endearing sympathetic nature to the reader that doesn't really abate even after he murders Dickie and steals his identity (ok, spoilers, but it's really the entire point of the book, so yeah).

It's honestly so masterful that I still can't work out how Highsmith has done it. Tom should essentially be repugnant to the reader, but he's so matter of fact about the things that he does and has enough reasoning that you almost feel yourself agreeing with him- of course that's what he did, how could he have done anything else? He's a conman in the book, but maybe more excitingly, he's a conman to the reader, convincing us that above all else, he's really a good guy. I genuinely felt stressed out any time he might get caught, which doesn't make any sense because HE IS LITERALLY A MURDERER.

And yet. A super sympathetic one.What can you do?

Although not one of the exciting parts of the book, one of the most interesting parts for me was the question of Tom's sexuality. He's clearly more interested in men than women in a general sense, and there are so many hints that he feels something more than friendship for Dickie that I just assumed he fully was gay for him. However, wikipedia (I know) tells me that Highsmith sees him as straight in that, in the sequels to this book (THERE ARE SEQUELS! 4 OF THEM!) he is married (to a woman) and she's quoted as saying something like 'oh he's not much good with women, but he can sex them, he's married is he not?' Regardless, I think we all know that the author is dead*, and so my opinion, and I'm fairly sure the opinions of most people reading this book, stands. BOOM, take that Patricia.

Anyway, the point is that this book is so exciting and thrillery that I could barely cope with it, but here I still am, alive to tell the tale that this book is amazing and so worth your time and attention. I am pretty into the idea of reading the sequels if I can find them anywhere, but something tells me they'll be sort of lacking compared to this masterpiece of thrillerness and fucked up men.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr King

Today is Stephen King's 70th Birthday. It's also my weirdly self imposed deadline for finishing ALL THE STEPHEN KING, and I made it, 5 days early. I don't even know how to feel about having read all the Stephen King there is (pretty fine, since there's a new one out in 5 days), or about being able to read his books as they are released now, or about finally finishing the epic (and terrifying) journey I started 6 and a half years ago.

I started reading all the Stephen King for two wildly different reasons- firstly because I kept buying his books at charity shops where they are extremely prevalent, but basically just kept re-reading It and Bag of Bones, and because I was struggling with being depressed and really, really needed a project to occupy myself with. So, I did it. I started with Carrie, made my way through some books I'd read and some books I hadn't, through three jobs and a Masters, through a certain number of boys, and from my parent's house, to my London house, to my first home with my boyfriend. It's not that I put any of this down to Stephen King, but it's sort of amazing to me that his books have quite literally been the backdrop to my twenties- sometimes it felt like the one thing that had any sort of clear and sane progression in my whole life.

Although I didn't have a time limit for reading all the King, I think it's safe to say that I didn't think that it would take 6 and a half years to read, what was then 58 books. Whilst I never intended it to be all I read, I still didn't think it would take too long, especially when, after about 2 and a half years, I was about 2/3 of the way though. WHAT HAPPENED, I hear you cry! Well. Well. Life would be the thing that happened. Life in the form of, firstly, some grief, and then a whole shit-ton of Shakespeare, and then also like a weirdly active (weirdly for me) social life that meant I read less but lived a whole lot more. I guess it's really this year that I've recommitted to this Stephen King thing, and I've gotten to read all of the books that I've sadly watched coming out over the years that I couldn't read because of my commitment to reading all of the Stephen Kings in order.

So now I know. I know whether the sequel to The Shining is any good (it is). I know whether anyone should read The Tommyknockers, ever (no). I know now, for sure, that It is still my favourite King (there may be better ones, and other people may totally have other favourites, but It is mine for always). I do know that, although there are a few stinkers and a few duds mixed in there, Stephen King has quite an extraordinary body of work that is so, so worth discovering. I don't know how he manages to write so much, or (mostly) so well, but I sure wish I could steal just a little of that magic. Juuuust a teensy bit... Please.

And so. Happy Birthday, Mr King. I've enjoyed adventuring with you so much, even the (very very many) times you scared me. Please live for about another 70 more years and write as many books as you already have so that I can stay entertained forever (or at least for another 6 1/2 years). You've been the backdrop to my reading life for a really long time now, and I will continue to be excited every time you release a new book, but until then, rereads will have to sustain me.

p.s. I love you. Don't ever change.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King (and Richard Chizmar): Gwendy's Button Box

This is Stephen King's latest book, and latest collaboration, and it is a tiny gem of a book. I say tiny because, although it has 170 pages, I whipped through them in probably about an hour, an hour and a half at the most. I enjoyed myself intensely in that time though, and for me, this was basically a perfect little novella.

Let's discuss.

Gwendy is a good kid who is spending her summer trying to lose weight before middle school, keen to avoid being 'the fat girl' once again. At the top of the suicide steps in Castle Rock (sound familiar?)  she finds a mysterious man dressed in black with the initials RF (this seems to me to be a mash up of two King villains, but this guy is in an ambiguous moral sphere if you ask me). The man tells Gwendy that she's special, and because she's special he gives her a button box to look after- This box dispenses magical chocolates (seriously magical chocolates) and valuable old coins, but also has a number of buttons- one for each continent, a scary black one, and a red one that isn't explained but is the only one which can be pressed more than once.

The man disappears and Gwendy goes on her merry way and gets on with her life. I don't know how much I can tell you about her life without revealing too much about the story (it's really really short), but her life becomes excellent, but with terrible terrible moments. The box is related to all of these things, but, I think the book wants to say, it also kind of isn't. We make our own luck and our own lives, and just because someone has a magical, terrible box, doesn't mean that they are any different.

Except that Gwendy is, but she was different to start with, anyway.

really can't say much more without giving away vital events of the story, but I really can't praise this book enough. It's short and simple, but that's pretty much what makes it so excellent. There are no extraneous storylines to distract us, so Gwendy and her tale really shine through, and the point/s this book wants to make manage to get themselves across so beautifully. IT IS JUST SO GOOD, and I'm so glad I sneaked it in before my (mostly imaginary) Stephen King deadline.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: End of Watch

I had quite a lot of feels reading this book, because for me it really sort of is the end of watch. My Stephen King journey ends here*, and whilst the great prolific writer is obviously still going, I still am having major Feelings about this being over (which I shall awe and amaze you with on the 21st, get excited). And so, the end of my watch was with End of Watch, and what a book it was.

So this is the third book in a trilogy and basically everything I have to say about it will be a spoiler. I think that in order to say anything at all, I think I'm going to have to tell you to turn away now if you haven't read these books, although I'm not going to say anything too outrageously revealing, I will essentially be giving away the end of Mr Mercedes, so. Yes.

End of Watch starts with Bill Hodges skipping out on a Doctor's appointment to get to the site of an apparent murder-suicide where everything looks a bit fishy. Of course, this being the trilogy that it is, the victims of the murder suicide are a woman who was left quadriplegic in the mercedes massacre of the first book, and her mother and carer. Everything about this seems fairly straightforward (I can't even begin to imagine the life of a quadriplegic, and especially the life of caring for someone who needs assistance with basically everything) except for the fact that their housekeeper says they were pretty happy with life, and Hodges and Holly find an outdated computer game device thing (yep, all of those words), also seen in the now vegetable-like Brady Hartsfield's hospital room.

As they begin to investigate, they notice a spate of suicides that all have links to Hartsfield, all of which seems impossible because, y'know, dude's been in hospital for YEARS, without proper brain function and all of those useful things. What's so great about this book is that all the little details you didn't really notice in the previous book when Hodges kept visiting Brady, all become super relevant and parts of the main story in this book. It not only follows the main action of the investigations, but also goes into the innermost workings of Brady's mind, and all that it's been through since we last had access to it in Mr Mercedes. It's still no pleasure to be in, but so many things are revealed and tied up, just like a good trilogy should do.

And this really is such a good trilogy. It's not something King has done a lot (and I would know!) and I like the fact that it has a lot of realism and just thriller-y elements that many of his other books lack. There are some supernatural elements of this last book, but even those are explained away by the characters using pseudo-science, and aren't really treated as unexplained. This leaves the way clear for good old fashioned thriller/detective work- chasing leads, working out what's going on, chasing down the criminal... It's all good, old fashioned fun, and I love it.

And I have loved this. I have loved reading these books, and not just this trilogy. I feel so weird knowing that I don't have this giant backlog of Stephen King books anymore, and knowing that I'm actually going to have to wait to read a new one, but it also feels pretty nice to have such an achievement under my belt. This trilogy though- I really can't recommend it enough, or really, you know, any Stephen King book apart from the bad ones (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Go forth, my pretties, and read read read.



*I'm ignoring his co-authored book released this year because I can, unless I can sneak it in before 21st September (aka King's 70th Birthday) which I would be pretty proud of but I'm not sure it's going to happen and thus I shall read it as a regular citizen rather than one who is challenging herself

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is the second in King's three part detective trilogy, starring the lovable retired cop Bill Hodges and his team of intrepid detectives. I say this BUT possibly the thing I loved best about this book was that it kind of wasn't about Hodges and his team, who pretty much took a backseat in the story, and let other events have their say. And SUCH events they are!

But let me back up a few hundred yards. So. At the end of Mr Mercedes, the first book in the trilogy, we leave everything where it is (vagaries so that we avoid spoilers... Although I don't know how I'm going to do that for End of Watch...) and Finders Keepers starts with a whole new story, and a whole new crime. A well respected author gets robbed, and in the process, his smart mouth ends up getting him murdered. The murderer ends up hiding the money and notebooks stolen from the author (his favourite, as it turns out) and in a series of unfortunate events ends up in jail and unable to retrieve them. Abouuuut 30 years later, a teenage boy finds them, who just happens to be the son of one of the people injured in the Mr Mercedes massacre of the first book. He uses the money to help his floundering family, and falls in love with the notebooks which contain two unpublished novels by the aforementioned murdered author.

It's probably clear that this doesn't go so well for the boy when the thief (and, lest we forget, murderer) is released from jail and everything gets very tense and thrilling, just like in Mr Mercedes. So, from the tenuous link of son-of-victim-of-massacre, we actually get a really great story- it's not just that it's tense and thrilling, it's also that it is very much its own story- it doesn't need the previous book to exist, but the fact that the connections are there make it that much more compelling. Hodges and his team don't come into it until about a third of the way through the book, and even when they do, it very much takes a backseat to the events of the main plot, and I really love that about the book. I also enjoy the little things- that Finders Keepers refers not only to the detective agency set up by Hodges and Holly since the end of the last book, but also that it refers to the attitude of the boy to finding all of these riches in a wood.

I think maybe what I loved best about the book is the way it signals to the love of books. For both the boy and the thief (is it clear by now that I can't remember their names..?), the main thing that motivates them isn't the money (although it's handy) it's the notebooks- not because they're technically worth more than money, but because they have a deep love for this writer and his works. Just imagining finding a couple of new Steinbeck novels, for example, sets my heart aflutter, so I get it. I totally get it. And also UGH it's just so good.

Finders Keepers DOES have some connections to the previous book, and having read End of Watch before writing this review, I can confirm that it also has connections to the final book in the trilogy, too. It is, in fact, the perfect bridging book, in that it doesn't let you forget the overriding story and main driving force of the trilogy,  but it also tells its own story without being overshadowed. Having read all three, I can't at all decide on my favourite, but this one may well be it.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

It should come as a surprise to literally nobody that, having read this book 2 months ago, I have absolutely no recollection of anything inside it. Nothing. I got nothing. Whilst this may be considered a reflection of its quality, it is in fact NOT because the one thing I DO remember about it is that it was excellent, and also that I felt like all the stories are good which basically never happens in a short story collection. (EDIT- I just looked at the Wikipedia page and there's this one story about baseball that I found SO BORING. But that's just me)

Because I have no memory (in my defence, a lot of Big Life Things have been happening since July) but I do have an internet connection, and, you know, wikipedia, Imma just go through the stories extremely briefly and rapidly and then you'll be convinced you need to read this, right? Right.

Mile 81: Violent car eats people at a deserted rest stop. I'm into it, I like when King does scary cars and there's a whole undertone of boy-learning-to-be-a-man that was also pretty good.

Premium Harmony: This is a nasty little story where a man's wife dies suddenly and unexpectedly in a shop whilst he's waiting in the car, and he just... doesn't... seem to care too much. One of my favourite King things is the everyday nastiness of regular people, and this story is basically that. Good stuff.

Batman and Robin have an Altercation: Essentially this is a story about road rage, but it's actually about watching one's parents age and all the sadness that goes along with that. The end is AWESOME.

The Dune: You know those stories that explain about a spooky thing, and you think for sure you know what the spooky thing has done this time but then it turns out you were wrong because you were supposed to be? (You probably don't because I've explained that horribly) BUT ANYWAY that is what this story is. So sue me, I like the cheap thrill of a twist ending.

Bad Little Kid: This story was HORRIBLE, but in a good way- the way in which you are as frustrated as the main character when a small child is doing evil deeds, because you know there's nothing you can do to stop this evil. I was so gripped, as well as so horrified. Also there's a good twist ending so you know you want to stick around for that.

A Death: This story was fun in the sense that it was a completely different style to King's usual work. It's essentially a Western, set in 1889, and involves the arrest, trial and execution (spoilers I guess, but it's fairly clearly going that way the whole story) of a man who constantly proclaims his innocence. There are tiny glimmers of The Green Mile in that sense, but mainly its just its own excellent thing.

The Bone Church: Poem. Utter crap. Next.

Morality: Now THIS was good. A couple struggling with financial difficulties have to consider whether the wife should take her very wealthy employer's offer of a lot of money to do a very bad thing. As readers, we don't know what the bad thing is (it's pretty bad) (but maybe not as bad as you think) but it asks a lot of questions about people's limits and the lines they will cross to get what they want. It's been said that everyone has their price, and this story definitely takes that idea and runs with it.

Afterlife: Remember when I read Sum and loved it? (Probably not but let's go with this) This story is basically like King's contribution to that book. It's another among many versions of the afterlife, and it's also a reflection on the stubbornness of people even when they're being told the exact opposite of what they want to do.

Ur: I had very *side eye* feelings about Ur when I first heard about it because, you know, it's basically an advert for kindles, right? Well. Sort of. The word Kindle (which is, of course, a brand name) IS used an obnoxious number of times in this story, but it's still so substantial that I didn't really care? It has a kindle that can see into the future! And many heroics! And Dark Tower references! And yeah, basically I want to get me one of these Ur Kindles so that I can read everything Stephen King has written in all possible universes, is that ok?

Herman Wouk is Still Alive: The Wikipedia article for this story is annoyingly vague so I don't remember it too well... I just remember the vaguely depressing Thelma and Louise undertones (but like, waaaay more depressing than Thelma and Louise) and I can't even remember if it ends the way I think it does. Yay, I'm a good blogger!

Under the Weather: This story is the bessssssst. It's perfect and simple and perfect in its simplicity. I would say that you don't know what's going on until at least 3/4 of the way through (or maybe that's just me) but as soon as you do it's such an OH MY GOD moment and everything makes sense and it's horrible. I LOVE it.

Blockade Billy: Boring boring baseball, boring boring someone did something IDK let's just move on with our lives now.

Mister Yummy: Mister Yummy isn't super substantial, but it mainly left me with the idea that Death takes the form of the thing that most sexually aroused you in life. I'm weirdly kind of into this idea, and when I'm super super super old, I'm sure I'll see a Biscoff Krispy Kreme stalking me and waiting for the big moment.

Tommy: Another poem. God, please make it STOP.

The Little Green God of Agony: An unpleasant man has many pain, his physio doesn't believe it can hurt THAT much, is proved wrong. This story made me feel very uncomfortable in places, and believe me, you don't want to come across a little green god of agony. Just... No.

That Bus Is Another World: A teeny weeny story about the things we tell ourselves to go on with our lives. Pretty good.

Obits: Imagine you write mean obituaries and one day you write one for a real person and they die. TERRIFYING POWER that basically nobody wants- and you especially don't want anyone to find out about it lest they make you harness it for their own uses. Sounds intriguing? So was this story. I liked it a lot.

Drunken Fireworks: This story was interesting in the sense that it's literally about a fireworks arms race (ooh! Aah!) but (BUT) it's also mainly descriptions of various fireworks which are reallllly more of a visual thing. It was fine though, and all good, clean, upsetting fun.

Summer Thunder: The perfect story to end the collection with (yes, it's nearly the end, I'm sorry), Summer Thunder is maybe the only end of the world short story I've ever read, and it's so damn wholesome. A man and his dog and his one remaining friend. It's ordinary life, but without anyone else to live it with. It's sad and moving and also just really good short story telling.

Thus concludeth this review. I am so sorry it was the longest thing ever, I'd forgotten how many stories there actually were in the thing (along with everything else about it, obviously!) I've said it before,  and I'll say it again- I really love King as a short story writer. He can get so bloated and losing the plot-ish with some of his longer works, but his short stories really just sustain an idea for a short amount of time and they're so TIGHT. As of now, I have no new King short stories to read, and doesn't it break your heart for me? It should!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

RIP RIP RIP RIP RIP (Which One Are We On Now... OK, yes XII)

As I think we should all be aware by now, RIP is my very most favourite reading event of the year. It's about the only one I participate in any more too, so that's a thing, but seriously, I can't even imagine an autumn now without reading books that make my heart race and make me want to hide under the covers. It's being hosted by Andi and Heather this year and I belieeeeeve you can sign up on either blog.

I will be going for Peril The First (as always) which is reading 4 books that are thriller/mystery/crime/horror-y. FULL DISCLOSURE: As it is the 9th day of RIP already (I am so late, I realise, but hey I only just got internet, leave me alone) I have already read two books that fulfil the requirements for this challenge, so who knows, I may have read 44 by the end of October (loljk I can't read that many books cause I have a job).

I am so into this challenge that I made a pile of books, carefully selected from the crates of books still sitting in my new flat (bookcases are arriving imminently) and took a photo even though I knew I wouldn't have internet for daysssss. This is the face of true dedication to feeling a bit scared. Look, books!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Other than The Sandman and Coraline, I still haven't managed to finish a Gaiman book, and I haven't even picked up a Pratchett one (I know, I know, I must be stoned to death). Maybe a combination of the two will kickstart me into reading their entire back catalogues. Maybe.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I started this a looooong time ago and never finished it. It might be time to restart it and actually finish the bloody thing this time. Honestly, me.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I have already read this (9 days!) and it is amaaaaazing. I loved it so much and the only reason I didn't read it in like a day was because I physically couldn't stay awake for that long (old age). I shall review most soonest. (ALSO: I have had this book on my pile almost every year since I started the RIP challenge 6 years ago [!] It feels goooood to have finally read it)

Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
I always need more Yoshimoto in my life and whilst I know basically nothing about this book, it says something about mystery in the blurb so there you go.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury! Shakespeare! Many exclamations to cover for the fact I don't know much about this book but it's gotta be good!

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Apart from Stephen King, Shirley is my GIRL for bringing the shocks and deep deep feelings of uneasiness. All over this.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
I also have no idea what this is about but there's bound to be lesbians. I thought it was the ghost one but Wikipedia tells me no, so... let us see!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I have had this book for SO LONG that I really just have to read it to get it the hell away from me. Or... In less harsh words, let's see if it's any good and go from there! It's so big thoughhhh...

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Murder! Jane Eyre! Some other stuff probably! What could possibly go wrong?

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
It's that horror story set in Ikea and in the style of an Ikea catalogue that I think everyone's already read. My turn!

That's my pile! I also, in an attempt to treat digital books like real books, need to finish The Fireman by Joe Hill and American Gods (also Gaiman) which are trapped, sadly ignored, in my iPad, and I have the strongest urge to reread It but don't really want to do it while I'm living alone for many evenings (it's complex, I'll tell you about it some time). I also haven't really been through ALL my books, so there are probably many more candidates hidden away that I'll find when I unpack them properly. It's all really quite exciting, to be honest.

Onwards! To fear!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Things I Read In August

Well heydilly ho, little bloggerinos! Another month, another... certain number of books. Plus some added extra whatnots. I haven't had all that much time to read this month because I AM MOVING, and yes that requires all caps because it has been monumentally stressful and I am only just about prepared for it. It's happening TODAY did I mention that OH MY FRICKING FRACKING GOD. 

But anyway. All of the packing and sorting and getting more and more annoyed with endless emails from my current landlord has not left me the most time for reading, but hey, I've done my best. I have also, for the majority of the month, had most of my books packed away in crates and boxes *tear* and that actually won't change for a while because I won't have bookcases delivered for another week, I KNOW WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE. I also don't even have a nice stack of books to show you this week because once read, immediately packed, is not at all a motto but has been my way of life this month. You'll just have to imagine the covers this month, I know you can do it.

BOOKS. I READ THEM. THEY ARE THESE ONES:

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
I wanted something to take the bad Atwood taste out of my mouth after Surfacing and Moral Disorder really did that. I don't want to admit that I had forgotten all about this book until I looked up my readings for this month, BUT I do now remember that this was excellent- sort of heartwarming and interesting and very human, sort of short stories and sort of all part of one bigger thing. I enjoyed it a lot and it's one of the first Atwood books I've read for a while that I actually want to keep and read again another day. Very fine work.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
This was a re-read to try and keep me sane throughout the month (spoiler! It didn't really work) but I also wanted to read it again because it's about the only one of her books that I've only read once. It's still great- so much food and so many recipes that I actually want to try. I really and truly wish that all comic books could be like Knisley's, and also that she had some kind of superhuman capacity to write about 12 a year.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King
Yay, Stephen King! This is the penultimate book of his I have to read, and I'm only holding back on the last one so that I can have read Stephen King books in all the houses of my twenties (apart from the University years, but to be honest I probably read Stephen King in those houses too). This was pretty great, although remember that I will have to review it more fully cause Stephen King, but it was a good example of how a book can be part of a series without the series itself intruding too fully. It is also SUCH a quick read and so thrillery OMG I can't even. But you'll see. You will.

A Dance With Dragons II: After the Feast by George RR Martin
A Game of Thrones! So I've not only finished the TV series (for now), I've also finished the books (for now). This has more of the same as the last book- more characters who don't really exist, more pointless tangental storylines, more THINGS THAT AREN'T THE TV SHOW (sorry, book purists). I felt quite a lot of the time that I was just reading it for the sake of it, but it also passed through my brain pretty quickly so I guess there's that. It also fell out of my brain pretty quickly so that's also a consideration. Overall book verdict: Meh.

My Struggle I: A Death in the Family by Karl One Knaussgard
I've had this on my shelf for a while and I'm pretty sure I just bought it because it was described as a modern Proust (which... I have not read). This is probably more accessible than Proust and I enjoyed it quite a lot- essentially an autobiography told in the style of fiction (totally learnt a new term whilst wikipedia-ing this book- 'autofiction', so that's a thing apparently) and Knausgaard really goes for it. No holds are barred while he talks about his dad's alcoholism, his grandmother's dementia, his childhood follies and fears, and so many other things. I was really into it, because his struggles are really all of our struggles, no matter what form they take- they can be the tiny things or the bigger things, and at the end of it, they're not really struggles so much as our lives. Yeah, I liked it a lot, and hey! There are 5 more to read so I. Am. On it.

So yeah, August. I actually read more than I thought I had, so go me! Now I must face the trauma of having no internet for the next 6 days (!) (ok 5, it arrives on the 6th) which I guess will give me time to finish my last Stephen King IN TIME FOR HIS BIRTHDAY which was my goal and wish. ALSO is RIP happening this year what do we know, because I find my damn scary books for the best reading event of the year, don't think that I won't!!! I hope you have all had excellent Augusts, and are ready for spooky af Septembers (aw yeahhh)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Revival


Blarrrrgh, I did not enjoy this book at all. I haven't said that for a LONG time about Stephen King, so I trust that you'll allow me to just not like this one. I'm not ok with it, and it's not an ok book. Is it as bad as, say, The Tommyknockers, or Dreamcatcher, or... (OK there must be some other bad ones, isn't there a stretch of bad 80s books?) Anyway, the point is, I don't really know the answer to that question, but the point is that I really didn't enjoy it, and it was kind of a bummer to get through.

But wait, I hear you cry. Don't you always find some good in Stephen King books, Laura? Well, maybe (except The Tommyknockers which is SO BAD you guys, don't even touch it, I swear- I've read it for you and that should be enough). I will say for Revival that it's consistent, it follows its main point through to the end, and the end itself, like when the book finally gets down to what it has to say (the main message being, 'Stephen King is afraid of death, or more specifically what the afterlife could be like') is wonderfully chilling and terrifying and omg please no. But also yes, can you go back and rewrite the book and make it more like this?!

Let's get a little more specific. The book starts with a promising sort of passage that suggests that sometimes the people who are important to your life are there the whole time, whereas other times they drop in and out of your life, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. This book describes the latter of these relationships where the main character* meets a priest at age 5 or 6, who then becomes integral to many parts of his life (and also, maybe a tiny spoiler, not a priest anymore). All of that is fine, and actually I pretty much liked the parts that involved the priest. These parts were all actiony, and you know they're building up to something, but just what that is is pretty obscure until the novel gets right down to it in the last, like, 50 pages or so.

So that's fine, but the problem is ALL OF THE REST OF THE BOOK. As I say, the whole point is that these meetings are infrequent but important, and that's how they feel in the narrative too. All of the rest of it is the story of the main character's life, and omg it is so boring. It's not that his life is boring necessarily, but it's more like 'so I grew up and discovered guitar and had sex with a woman and then was in some bands and then INTERESTING BIT and then I worked in the music business and played more guitar and ANOTHER INTERESTING BIT' and do you see what I mean? The actual action seems to happen way less frequently than all the bits in between, and although I normally like those bits (I really do!) I just really wasn't interested about them in this book. GIVE ME A BETTER NARRATOR NEXT TIME, KING!

So yeah, not one of his finest IMHO. I found it interesting to see where his mind was at (death death death is scary) and how (I think) it relates pretty much just to him aging, but other than that I can't see it being one I would ever want to read again. The fact that I haven't been able to say that for a long time I think reveals how excellent his work has been lately, so I'm willing to let him off with a warning for this slip up. D-, must do better.

*of course I can't remember his name

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Things I Read In July

July! You went so fast, and I shall miss you. This month I had to adjust to my fella's new working schedule which has essentially been working all the time, so I've been trying to squeeze in time with him whenever I can. Even though I've had a lot more time to read on the weekends I haven't so much done that, but I have done more traveling than usual which is optimum reading time. I have also been trying to get into some kind of exercise routine, by which I mean that I have a diary that I put a little yoga calendar in, and if I don't do yoga on any given day I have to put a cross in the box which is supposed to make me feel bad (it works like 2%, so not really at all). More importantly I have played tennis (I know!) which I am really bad at but which is also just really fun and good and I like it a lot so there.

But anyway, who cares about my health? We are all here for BOOKS, and oh my there were plenty this month. Behold!

Such a beautiful group of creatures, oh my.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
I started my month with one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and a book that I liked so much that I've even reviewed it already (I know!) Just read the review if you'd like to know more about it, but I found it very funny and annoying-in-a-good-way and just very insightful and excellent. I must read more of this Zadie Smith person, is she like famous or something *sarcasm font*

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
I don't know if I've said this before or not, but I really feel like King's short stories of late have really started to surpass themselves (and they've always been good). There were almost no stories in this book that I didn't think were excellent, but you'll have to wait for my whole review to find out which ones were actually terrible (spoiler: it was the poems)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
This is a really early Atwood, and I just... ehhhhh, I don't know. I had a problem with it to begin with because it's written in the first person present tense (please, just don't) but it doesn't help that there isn't really a story to it (other than, some friends go to stay in the woods and one essentially has a really wordy and literary nervous breakdown [it's maybe only a nervous breakdown in my opinion]). I thought some of the sentences were beautiful and at a base language level it's a very good book- this just, for me, wasn't reflected at the story level. I can see how this would probably be some people's favourite book, but for me it was too much language masking too little story.

What I Loved by Siri Hudsvedt
I wanted to love this book so much. I can't really tell you why I thought I would, except for the tiny fact that Siri Hudsvedt is Paul Auster's partner (wife?) and shit I love Paul Auster and obviously the woman associated with him must be very interesting and also must write exactly like him because women are just extensions of men, right? Right. That much is obvious. 
Ahem. But for reals. I got a bit impatient with this book almost from the start because books that describe fictitious works of art in great detail kind of get on my nerves a bit. This is saved quite a lot by the story in general (to start) but as it goes on, it gets to a really frustrating point where all the grown ups seem to act like morons rather than like actual people (intellectuals, amiright?!) There's sort of a mystery plot, but that bit's rubbish, and the book is only really good when it's dealing with life and human experiences and when it doesn't get, to my mind, a bit silly. I didn't really care about anyone towards the end, and it's only now as I'm writing this that I realise I actually liked this book even less than I thought I did... who knew?!

A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ah, Ishiguro. This book made me realise the thing that all of his other stories (that I've read) have in common- What he really does, is tell the story around the main story and forces you to fill in the gaps and decide what the actual story really was. I can't even tell if this is a technique I like or not, but I certainly didn't hate reading this book, even if it wasn't the story I wanted to hear. The story is of a Japanese woman who moved to England many years ago, but she is reminiscing about her time in Japan and about a particular woman who was a pretty terrible mother, leaving her child to roam wild and placing her affection for an American man above the wellbeing of her child. The ACTUAL story of this book is of the narrator's daughter's suicide, and what the events could have been that led to it, but I guess her reminiscings are related- she remembers the woman who was a terrible mother because she feels that she too must have been a terrible mother for her daughter to want to die.
In the end, I always feel as though Ishiguro is a better writer to study than to casually read for funsies, but I like to flex my literary brain muscles every once in a while and this book gave me a good opportunity to do that. Thanks, Ishiguro!

Oracle Night by Paul Auster
I feel like in the back of my mind I have always compared Murakami to Auster, but the whole time I was reading this book I thought 'this is very Murakami-esque', which it is, but it's also quintessentially Auster, too. This teensy novel has it all- mixed and mixing narratives, a weird shop that disappears and then reappears again in a different location, imagined indiscretions and probably real ones too, and oh man. It was just so good (for me. I can imagine other people reading it and thinking it was a mess). When I started reading it, I was rolling my eyes at the footnotes (footnotes. In a novel. That are part of the novel. Kind of annoying, yeah), but they were actually super informative and even though I feel like they could have been slotted into the narrative, they didn't feel out of place as footnotes, if that makes sense. The only thing I didn't LOVE about this book was the ending which felt a little rushed and sort of random, but I think that was kind of the point- you can pontificate and write fiction all you like, but in the end, real life will find you and bite you in the ass. Or at least, that's the message I got from it, anyway.

Emerald City and Other Stories by Jennifer Egan
I don't think I've been consciously saving this book for any reason, but I do know that as soon as I read there was a new Jennifer Egan book out this year, I chose to read this one. Although I love A Visit from the Goon Squad, I never thought any of her other novels reached the heights of that, and I think I now know the reason- Egan is a short story writer, not a novelist. A Visit from the Goon Squad, I know, is a novel, but it's a novel where short stories interlink rather than following a strict narrative. This collection of short stories is excellent- tense and interesting and intriguing and filled with so much human nature that it's almost too much. It's super telling to me that this is the only one of her books, apart from Goon Squad, that I am choosing to keep for always, and yeah, you know what, it's just pretty great.

A Dance With Dragons I: Dreams and Dust by George R R Martin
I snuck this one in right at the end of the month because honestly I just want to get the Game of Thrones books away from me now- they're damn heavy, ok?! This was pretty engaging and thrilling, and I think I've finally reached the point where the books are really quite different to the TV series, which would be ok except that I go 'but... that's not what happens' rather than 'oh yeah, that makes sense' because as I believe I have made clear already, THAT TV SHOW IS KING, OK?! Still, the book was fun and exciting as always, and I'm onto the second part of it already, so... I guess I can't hate them that badly.

Books! Huzzah! Quite a big reading month even though I felt, as always, that I didn't really have much time to read. In August the trains are all going to be baaaaad for most of the month, which will involve me getting the bus in the mornings as well as the evenings which should give me many extra reading times but who knows if that will actually be the case!


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Mr Mercedes

I had a lot of fun reading Mr Mercedes. Even though I (naturally) relate King to alllll of the supernatural goodness that he brings to us all, when he writes a 'straight' novel (with the teeniest hint of a slightly above average intuition) he still kills it. Mr Mercedes is more along the lines of his True Crime books, in that it is about, well, a true crime, only it's fictional... Ok I'm rambling.

HERE'S HOW IT GOES: The story begins with a horrifying crime when a Mercedes plows into a group of people who have (wait for the heartbreak) been waiting outside all night for the possibility of getting jobs. Many people are killed and the killer gets away scot free. Flash forward a few years later (don't ask me how many because I read this quite a while ago now) and the detective who worked on the case is retired and watches a lot of tv and is getting a little too friendly with his father's gun, if you know what I mean. He gets sucked out of his retirement blues by receiving a letter from the Mercedes killer, which drags him back onto a case and out of retirement, which is really exactly what he needed.

Here's a thing that I think is special about this book- we, the reader, knows who the killer is almost from the beginning. This is not a whodunnit, there's no straining the brain to try and figure out which minor character is a big murderer, because we already know that. The question with this book is really, 'what is he going to do next'? I really enjoyed this, because firstly, I find it really stressful to try and work out whodunnit, and it really makes me question my, like, intelligence skills, and secondly, doing it this way meant that we got to see into the fucked up brain of someone who murders for no reason. It was really a wild ride though the head of the murderer (I'm not being coy, I just genuinely can't remember his name...) and although the novel provides some tentative evidence for the growth of his psychopathy, it also doesn't use those reasons to let him off the hook, which I enjoy.

Let's also talk about the detective because he was pretty great. I'm sure the novel says how old he is, but I totally can't remember, so let's say... 60? And for a 60 year old, let me tell you, he's pretty foxy in my head. I'm not sure how, cause the book also says that he's totally gotten fat, but I guess his seeking out of justice just makes me super into him. Attractiveness aside, he's just a pretty good character- reckless and impulsive but generally good meaning, and with a couple of mismatched sidekicks who end up being very excellent. I think the novel holds back on explaining too much about any of the main three 'good' characters because- wait for it- there are two more books in this little series and I am VERY EXCITED about that (especially cause my next two King reads are those too books and yes I am behind in reviewing and yes those are basically the last two books omg I know right?)

But anyway. Yes. Mr Mercedes gets two thumbs up, I am a fan. I totally give you my permission to read it, and it'll even work for you if you get scared by horror, just not if you're scared of being senselessly and randomly murdered one day... And if you're not, then WHY not?! A topic for another time, I guess.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Devouring Books: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

What is this madness?! A book review that isn't Stephen King related? What a rare phenomenon!

I know I've kind of been doing the bare minimum of book reviewing lately (I only do every Stephen King because why break a 6 1/2 year habit?) but just as a quick example of how busy I am, I pay for a Japanese lesson every week that I have absolutely no time to study for because I have NO TIME hardly at all really. This isn't a complaint about my life, far from it, but more of an illustration of the busies that I have going on.

Having said that, Japanese class ends for the summer tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be doing year 2. Time regained? Perhaps.

Anyway. I guess I was here to talk about a book? Let's see... Yes. I have had On Beauty on my shelves for approximately eleventy billion years, which is slightly fewer years than I've had White Teeth on my shelf. I own 3 out of Smith's 5 novels, and yet, until this month, I have never been really inclined to pick one up. I can give you no rational reason for this, and now I am filled with regret that I didn't bring On Beauty into my life sooner.

This book is GREAT.  In many ways, it's the perfect book for English students, in that Smith gives you just enough information for you to fill in the gaps around what we actually see. The parts in between that I imagine may be completely different from the parts in between that someone else would imagine, but that's one of my favourite things about reading, about interpretation, and about fiction in general. Whilst this style also means that there are things you WISH were expanded on (I wanted to know more about this budding rap artist/poet, Carl, for instance), the fact that you are given such scope to explore it yourself feels kind of like a priceless gift.*

There is so much in this book that I'm slightly stuck about how to begin explaining it to you. It's sort of about this one family, the Belseys, who have a wonderful black mother and a terrible white father (their respective races are not what make them wonderful and terrible, but I'm sure it's related) but it's also about art and education and adolescence and making horrible decisions and having to live with them, and having to, or deciding to, live with the horrible decisions of others. I say it's about the Belseys, but it's also about their 'rival'** family, the Kippses, and it's about the college town they live in and also, sometimes its about facing ones own mortality.

I mean, seriously, this book gets through a lot in 443 pages!

There are some pretty deplorable characters in this book, and hardly anyone that I liked uncomplicatedly. My greatest hatred, however, was reserved for Howard Belsey, the patriarch of the Belsey family and also a pretty terrible human. The book makes it pretty clear that he's going through a midlife crisis (almost the very beginning reveals that he has cheated on his wife which NO YOU DO NOT KIKI IS AWESOME) but for me that wasn't even what made him the most deplorable so much as his style of teaching. Here's a thing about me: when I went to do my MA in Shakespeare, I figured that my return to academia was probably/hopefully a permanent one and one day I'd have that elusive PhD. When I got there, however, I remembered all the things I don't like about it- the fact that, to get the highest grades, you have to go for the most obscure part of a text and tease out something that you want to be there because it sounds cool. Belsey's teaching style reminds me of this- he is an Art History professor, and instead of encouraging his students to talk about a painting, he more or less encourages them to talk around it, never really getting to anything like (what I consider) interesting discussion. Also, he's a pretty routinely terrible human, I don't really wanna talk about it.

Basically, to sum it up, this book was awesome enough for me to actually write a review of it. I KNOW, what more do you need to know?! I am filled with regret for leaving Zadie on my shelves for so many years, and I suspect I shall very shortly be reading (and also acquiring) her other books. I really can't recommend this enough, so if you get the chance to read this, you totally should. Also HAVE you read it? DID you like it? Please say yes.


*Interestingly, a priceless gift is also sort-of given in this novel. And also MANY OTHER THINGS HAPPEN.
**Meaning that the patriarchs are rivals. Because of course they are.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Things I Read In June

Ohhh boy, June was a tough month for me, you guys. Two of my housemates left (trust me, this was not a bad thing) which meant that, because apparently everyone else I live with is incapable, I had to find two new housemates, one which I had a month to find and one I had to find in TWO WEEKS because, again, everyone else is FUCKING INCAPABLE. On top of that, I applied for the job that's the stage up from my job and had to deal with the stress of that and the interview and everything (AGH!) and I had no bathroom for the last week of the month. To say it was just one thing after another would be quite the understatement.

But there were some good things too! I celebrated 6 months with my fella and we went to the zoo which was GREAT and in general weekends have been a pleasure whilst the weeks have been eh. I also worked about 12 hours more than I needed to which doesn't sound like a good thing because work but is actually excellent because I get to play with those extra hours by having flexi days off and just generally shorter hours on some days, which I will sorely need this month when my boyfriend starts working all the weekends (seriously, like all the weekends...) but has days off, so yes. Forward planning, folks.

Anyway. Somehow, through all the stress and horrors, I managed to read SO MUCH in June. I got through 9 books, and even though two were comic books, that still makes 7 novels devoured in June. I guess we should put it down to extra daylight hours or something? Definitely or something...

Anyway, look at them!
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
I went through a phase of buying Alice Munro books whenever I saw them and never actually reading any of them. I figured it was a good time to figure out if I actually liked her writing style or not (cause, you know, if not I could get rid of some books!) but it turns out, yep, she's pretty great. This collection of short stories was grittier than I expected, which also made them more interesting than I expected, and even though I couldn't tell you what happened in most of the stories (I read NINE books this month, guys) I know there are parts that will stay with me for a while, which is all I can really ask for at my advanced age.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
This was good, but maybe not as good as I was expecting. A really long time ago I read an extract from this in The New Yorker and I thought it was super interesting so I bought the book when I saw it. A million and one years later I actually read it, and it's a pretty good dystopia set in the not too distant future where the dollar is worthless and young people literally can't connect with anyone and can only consume and consume and consume because that is what technology does to us if you're a total pessimist. This was a decent dystopia, but for me not such a great love story because I just didn't get it... The guy is literally THE WORST and the girl is kind of great but also kind of not, but shallow  enough that she would never go out with this guy so in that sense I just didn't really believe it. But still, it was decent enough to keep me entertained and to prevent me from having to watch cricket so what more can you ask for?

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
It's a Stephen King so OBVIOUSLY I'm going to review this in long form, but let's just say I enjoyed this a lot and I'm really glad that it's part of a series and I get to hear more from these characters. It's twisted and upsetting and so good I can't even.

Torch by Cheryl Strayed
I bought this book a long time ago but about a month afterwards my nan died and the thought of reading a book that is centred around the death of a mother was too upsetting and I put it back down every time I picked it up. I'm glad I finally read it because this book was actually excellent- I'm not sure I even cried at it because it doesn't go straight for the emotions but tries to seriously and insightfully look at all the different ways of grieving- it's not always about sadness, but about resentment and guilt and, especially in this book, doing whatever you want because nothing seems to matter any more. This book has done nothing to damage my love of Strayed's writing, and really just makes me want more fiction from her, please please please.

The Age of License by Lucy Knisley
Ah, Lucy Knisley. I bought this and the next book as treats for myself for being a brave girl when I had to have a medical thing done last month, and although I tried to save at least one of them for later, I just... can't do such things. This one is a chronicle of a month Knisley spent travelling through Europe and having a beautiful love affair and I enjoyed it ever so much- especially her reunion with French milk because damn that girl loves the milk in France. It is, as ever, excellent work and you should almost definitely read this.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley
Similarly... Displacement was actually a little harder to read than The Age of License, in that it's about a cruise Knisley took with her elderly grandparents, and how difficult it was to deal with their various ailments and whatnot, and it hit me right in the feels. It's still excellent, but it's more like a harsh reality check when compared to the dreaminess of An Age of License.

Revival by Stephen King
After a really good run of Stephen Kings I've loved, I've finally come to one that just kind of bored me. Full review to come, but this one had a good (horrifying) ending but that was kind of it, in my opinion. Mehhhhhh so hard.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis 
I bought this because it's been everywhere this year as some kind of fortune telling book about the Trump presidency. Although there are some similarities between the moron President/dictator Buzz Windrip in this book and the moron President currently running America, this book was slightly more terrifying since a dictatorship is declared literally just after inauguration, concentration camps are established and basically this is Lewis's answer to people saying that America could never become like Nazi Germany (it was written in 1936). I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from this book, and although I found it hard to become motivated to read it, once I was into it I couldn't put it down. It helps that it was told from the perspective of a member of the resistance (viva la resistance!) and that it is essentially a dystopian novel, and yeah, it's pretty good, if not as prophetic as, say, Waterstones, would have you believe.

Miss Buncle's Book by D E Stevenson
Another month, another Persephone novel. This book was adorable- sharp and witty and romantic and lovey and I am running out of adjectives but basically it was just GREAT! Miss Buncle writes a book about her neighbours and the worst of them hate it (because it shows them as they are) and try to out the writer as the writer (Miss Buncle) is busy writing another book about how ridiculous they all are. I can't even express the pure joy this book brought me (especially after It Can't Happen Here) and you should definitely read it if you can get your hands on a copy.

June! Reading really did its job of taking me away from real, horrible life, so nice job books. I'm hoping for a July that's much less stressful, but with just as much book joy.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Devouring Books: Dietland by Sarai Walker

I read Dietland in great big gulps. If the main character has a dysfunctional relationship with food (which, not even a spoiler, she doesssss) then reading this was like me having a dysfunctional relationship with reading. Binge reading, if you like. The kind of reading where you don't want to do anything else (even stuff you need to do) except read this book.

I liked it a lot, is what I'm saying.

The story is Plum's. She is a woman, living in Brooklyn, working for an evil media conglomerate where she tries to respond to the problems of teenage girls, who believe they are writing to the editor of the magazine (who is a real dick, btdubs). Plum also weighs 300lb, barely leaves the house except to write at her (only) friend's cafe, is on a low dose of anti-depressants and also hates herself so desperately that it hurts. Well, it hurt me, anyway.

One of the soundbites on the back of the book calls it 'a manifesto disguised as a beach read' and I think that's just such a spot on description of it that I'm totally stealing it. This book is very well written, and so easy to just fly through, but once you get to the end, you have read a book where (finally!) a fat woman has learnt to love herself without losing weight. I know, I know, the concept is completely unthinkable (*eyeroll*) except I honestly believe (or maybe just hope) that as a society we're getting to a stage where people are learning to love and embrace what makes them different rather than literally hurting themselves trying to fit into some mould that the media has told them to fit into so that they can make a shit-ton of money. What I'm saying is, I think this book is very timely indeed.

Even though I flew through it, in one sense Dietland was hard to read in places. It became incredibly frustrating to hear Plum's thought cycle of 'once I'm thin I'll do this' 'I can't do that cause I'm still fat' and essentially stopping herself from participating in the world because of her physical appearance. I understood it, and I know that it happens with real people, it was just so upsetting and frustrating to be a part of via Plum as proxy. I guess for me, this is mainly because I am already a pretty comfortable chubby person- in fact, I recently lost weight because my doctor told me to and I'm pretty obedient/don't want to get cancer, and it made me more uncomfortable that people were commenting on how good I looked than I felt uncomfortable being that bit fatter, as if I was somehow worth more because I now have a slightly smaller BMI. I guess what this means is, although I loved this book, I didn't exactly need it, whereas I think there are probably women out there who desperately need a book like this- they just don't know it yet.

And so, feminism. This book is so feminist it's unreal- Plum learns that, by not buying into the idea she has to be thin, she sidesteps so many uncomfortable realities that women who do buy into that are really buying into- the idea that women should take up less space than men, the idea that 'fuckability' is the most important aspect to a woman, the idea that looking like what a man wants you to look like (and again, this is only the media's idea of a man who only wants the media's idea of a woman!) is the only thing that matters. This book manages to explore many important and uncomfortable issues with the lightest of touches. There is also a subplot that involves what is essentially a group of feminist guerillas, and whilst I didn't necessarily agree with their methods, I couldn't argue with their results- half naked women on buses are replaced with half naked men, The Sun has male Page 3 models instead of female ones, the world becomes, just for a little bit, not all about the fucking male gaze.

So yeah, seriously, this book is so great.

So, do it. Buy it. It might change your whole worldview, or it might be the book about your whole worldview that you've been waiting for for so long. Both options are pretty great, don't you think?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Devouring Books: If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm

When I think about things I've read about the Holocaust, I come up with Maus, The Diary of Anne Frank, and that's kind of it. I honestly couldn't tell you if I've been intentionally trying to shield myself from reading about horrible things, or if I've just been a lazy scholar in this area. I learnt about the Holocaust at Secondary School (but that's it) and I've also been to a Concentration Camp and even the place where the final solution (uck) was decided upon*, but I've still remained pretty ignorant about most of the horrifying things that happened in the camps during the war.

Fittingly, If This Is A Woman is a really comprehensive book about the activities of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, a camp that nobody ever really knows or talks about. I can't tell if this is because 1) it wasn't a death camp (as in it didn't have gas chambers until right at the end of the war, not that many many didn't die there because of the awful conditions) 2) it wasn't strictly a Jewish camp because the agenda for Jews was obviously death and so they didn't tend to stay at Ravensbruck long, or 3) because it was a camp, in fact the only camp, that was exclusively for women. I don't want to be cynical and say that because women are the only ones that suffered and died there it has been viewed as less important and not as worthy to discuss, but I guess I am saying that so please have some of my cynicism, it's free!

Ok, so. As I've already said, I have nothing really to compare this book to, but in my opinion, it was a really really good chronicles of the experiences of women in the camp. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed reading it because, come on, but there were times when I couldn't quite put it down just because I was filled with horror, and, quite frankly, I wanted to get to the end where, at least, some of the women would survive.** This book, however, is packed with information and research, and although there were points where I just wanted to not know anymore, I also felt like reading it was an important thing to do- not even for me, really, but for everyone to know how horrifying things were so that we don't let this shit happen again.

I think for me, the best thing about this book is that it's all about the women's stories. I think Helm interjects as the narrator only in the introduction and epilogue, and only to describe her feelings upon visiting the camp and also explaining how she tracked down some of the survivors. Other than that, it is only the women's voices we hear, describing the things they lived through and also describing the women they loved who didn't live through them. I still don't know if I've remained ignorant through choice or because, y'know, I've been reading other things, but I know for a fact that I've always tried to not hear about the medical experiments Nazis carried out on prisoners (if I go through my whole life not knowing what they were doing with twins, for example, I think I'll be good). This book, however, did not allow me to look away, and now I know about some horrifying experiments that I suspect don't even scratch the surface of the evil shit the Nazis were doing to people. It's not like I didn't know they were bad, but shit, dude. They were doubleplus bad, you know?

I think this review has mostly revealed my ignorance of the Holocaust before reading this book, but i guess that's ok. I read to entertain myself, mostly, but this was absolutely an instance of reading to educate myself. I feel as though it has opened a door to probably more Holocaust reading, but in a little while so that I have a chance to recover somewhat (I realise this makes me a total pansy compared to people who fought, hard, for their lives every single day, but hey, I gotta do self care). In my completely uninformed opinion, this is a really good example of a Holocaust chronicle, and if you want to look specifically at the women who suffered, then this is, I think, a really good place to start.




*It's this gorgeous house in the Berlin suburbs and it just does not deserve to be that beautiful. But it is. Sorry.
**Alas, the end is pretty grim- many women were killed in air raids just outside Ravensbruck after they'd been freed, and many many more were raped by soviet soldiers who were there to liberate them. Yay, men!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Doctor Sleep

Of all the King books that have been released after starting my long voyage, Doctor Sleep is the one I was most apprehensive about. The Shining is a pretty iconic book (don't talk to me about the movie, but the book, yes) and if there was something I didn't think I needed, it was a sequel to it. I'm not sure that this book exactly convinced me that I needed a sequel, but I still really enjoyed it all the same.

Let's see. This book starts by taking us to Danny about 3 years after the events in The Overlook, where he is being haunted again by some of the gross things he saw there. Dick Halloran tells him how to get rid of them, and we are then transported through time (that happens a lot in this book which is one of its strengths- we'll get onto that later) to see Danny- now Dan- as an adult alcoholic, drinking almost all the time to try and dull the memories and the shining- less intense as an adult than as a child, but still irreducibly there. We actually get to see him hit rock bottom, stealing from a woman who quite clearly has nothing, and leaving a child in a dangerous situation.

It was at this point that I was worried about this book. I didn't want to see the destruction of Danny from The Shining, and I didn't know enough about the book to be sure that he wasn't going to go down a Jack Torrence path of destruction rather than going to AA. Spoiler, but reassurance- he goes to AA rather than on a killing spree so you are totally going to be able to read this book, don't panic.

Danny (Dan) is not even really the main point of this book, however. This is his story, but it's also the story of a long-living group of almost vampires, who live not off blood but off of whatever is produced by children who shine. It's also also the story of Abra, a little girl who does shine, and who shines extremely bright. These three elements combine together over time gaps and physical distances to make a story that's really intriguing and exciting and oddly road trip-ish, but you know. In a bad way.

In a lot of ways, I think the best thing about this book is the time gaps. What it allows is for us to see large cross sections of Danny's life, from rock bottom, to finally finding help, to then being able to help others. As much as The Shining was incredibly insular and takes place over a few weeks/months, Doctor Sleep takes place over decades, making it much more roaming and a whole overview of a person's life, rather than giving us a small snapshot of what Dan's life is like afterwards. King pretty much says that he wrote this book cause people always asked him what happened to the kid from The Shining, and so he got to wondering that himself. Here he answers the question not with a single event but with many, and you know what? It ain't such a bad life at all.

And so. The completely unnecessary sequel turned out to be pretty great, and definitely worth your time and attention. I like and root for Dan as much as I liked and rooted for him as a child, and I'm really glad that this book didn't do anything bad to the legacy of The Shining, even though I feared it would. It's good book, people. Good book indeed.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Joyland

Joyland was, quite genuinely, a joy to read (groaaaaaan). It's another one of King's Hard Case Crime books (the last being The Colorado Kid) and it's just so great. Although, because it's King, there are a couple of supernatural elements to proceedings (a fortune teller! A psychic child! A ghost!) at it's core this is really just a good old fashioned whodunnit and, well, I can hardly resist one of those.

I'm finding it hard to think coherently about Joyland, because my brain just keeps going 'God, that book was GREAT!' and that's about all I can handle. So let's try and do some plot. Devin is a college student who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has found a summer job at a carnival. Firstly, the carnival seems like an awesome place to work, and don't think for one second that I didn't want to run off and be a carny for most of this book because shit, those parts seemed like so much fun. This particular theme park, however, has a grisly past as a woman was murdered in (of course) the haunted house a number of years before, and it is solving this crime that is the basis of the book.

Except that, it also kind of isn't. I know I said this is a good old fashioned whodunnit, and certainly I got that rush of satisfaction when I found out who the killer was because, you know, it's very pleasing to have solved the mystery.* In many ways though, the mystery, just like the supernatural elements, are secondary to the main story, which is basically just the story of Devin himself. That's right, King has done it again, and made you believe you're reading a scary book, when actually you're really just reading a character piece. This book is all about getting over heartbreak, making grown up choices, and finding out who you are and who you want to be in life. All of these things are things I can get behind, and shit, I really loved this book.

Don't get me wrong though, it is still pretty scary. There were definite moments of peril where I couldn't quite breathe right, and I was also so engrossed by it that I made my boyfriend and I miss a train because shit, I just wanted to finish it, ok?! I gulped this book down in a couple of days, not only because it's short and I had some travelling time to read (both true) but also because, fuck, I really did  not want to put it down (see above re: missing train).

So to conclude. This book was aces and frankly I could read it again right now without any complaints. I don't even just recommend this book to you, I URGE you to read it, especially if you like crime fiction in any sense. I don't know what it is about these later King books, but to me it seems like he's gotten really really good over the last few I've read. All killer, no filler, all that kind of stuff. This makes me really excited for whatever comes next, and also slightly mournful that in just a few books, I'll have to wait for the next King book to be published like a total sucker. Alas, alas, woe is me etc. But also, not really cause I get to read more Stephen King!

*For the record, I did not solve the mystery, and definitely allowed myself to be led down the wrong path just as King intended. I like detective/crime stories, I would just be really bad if I lived in one.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Things I Read In May

May was a preeeetty good reading month, mainly because I had so many sick days off work for various reasons (5 in total, which feels so naughty to write down, but... sick is sick!) I finished 6 books, which actually I don't think is a giant amount, BUT a couple of them were giant and so, you know, I read a lot of book last month.

JUST LOOK!

Amazingly, I have reviewed most of these books already (coming soon!) so this monthly wrap up will be mercifully short for once, don't say I never do anything for you.

Joyland by Stephen King
I had so much pure, unadulterated fun reading this one. It's a crime King, which is always excellent, mainly because there's not just a crime to solve but also some supernatural elements thrown in and just a lot of good, clean fun. You'll like it, I swear.

If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm
This book looks at Ravensbruck, the only Nazi Concentration Camp that was exclusively for women, and it was hard to read. Not hard because the writing was bad (it wasn't) but because the subject matter is especially difficult and it's hard to reconcile humans treating other humans in such a way. I have already written a review for this, but rest assured it is worth your time and (I think) a good place to start if you want to learn more about the Holocaust.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
It's the sequel I didn't think I needed, but it turned out that I liked it quite a lot. Doctor Sleep follows Danny from The Shining (premise of the book: whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?) through alcoholism but then glory and even though I was worried about the legacy of The Shining I really shouldn't have been cause this was great.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
I think what I'm about to say might shock you, but I wasn't over enamoured with this book. It's an early Murakami, so it seems to me that, although it still contains many of his usual hallmarks (ears, foods, REALLY WEIRD SHIT) he hadn't quite worked out how to fit them all together yet to make a cohesive story. If his stories can ever be cohesive, I suppose... Anyway, it wasn't terrible because Murakami, but still was not at all my favourite.

A Feast For Crows by George R R Martin 
It's Game of Thrones. You know what you're getting. For me the real excitement with this book came from trying to work out where things came in the tv show, and also trying to work out what had been substituted for what because there are some real differences that are starting to emerge (although many of the essential plot points remain the same). I did enjoy this book a lot and it helped me while I was recovering from a medical thing, but I STILL LIKE THE TV SHOW BETTER I AM SORRY.

 Dietland by Sarai Walker
I finished this book in basically a day, which should tell you both that it was super easy to read and also excellent. I have written a full review of this one too (I KNOW) so I shan't say too much, but let's just say that the fact that it is easy to read is deceptive because it is feeding you so many important things you need to know about the diet industry and accepting oneself and ugh it's just so great. I can't recommend it enough, really.

And that was May! It's only the second of June and I've already finished one book, so I'm super optimistic about this next month already, I have to say. How is your reading going for the year?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Not-Quite-Sunday Sundries: Here Is A Pile Of Books

Bank Holiday greetings, friends and (hopefully not) foes! I'm definitely trying to cover for my lack of a Sunday post right now, but since today is a Bank Holiday it's basically still Sunday, amiright? I probably am not.

My bank holiday weekend weirdly kind of started on Thursday, but only because I had to go to the hospital and have a... thing done*, Friday I was all sore still so gave myself the day off and I've just spent a lovely weekend with my gentleman caller. So Monday it is!

Back to Thursday though: I woke up early because I always wake up early now (case in point: it's a bank holiday and I woke up at 6:45am! Woo! Not) and to prevent myself from stressing too intensely, I decided to tidy my room and watch Gilmore Girls because I find both of these things curiously relaxing. When I was tidying, I decided to put away the new books I have bought/received this year (aka the pile of shame) for the sake of having more floor space, and as I did so I kept seeing books I really wanted to read, and so a new pile was formed.

Behold!
Since I am me, this pile isn't really definitive and I will probably hate the idea of all of these books in a few weeks, but for now, these are the books I intend to read soonly. They are:

  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro- cause I have somehow accrued quite a lot of Munro books and managed to read exactly zero of them. This is the first one  bought, so seems like a good starting point.
  • Postcards by Annie Proulx- cause it's one of the only Proulx books I haven't read, and I find that she goes so well with summer.
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson- cause I remembered that I had this the other day, and I really liked the preceding book to it. This one's time has come.
  • Torch by Cheryl Strayed- cause I love Cheryl Strayed and it seems ridiculous that I haven't read this yet.
  • Dietland by Sarai Walker- cause I really really wanted to read it (note: I have done now and it exceeded all my expectations)
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith- cause like with Munro, I have many of her books and have not yet read any. Must do better!
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart- cause I read a part of this in The New Yorker a long long time ago and I really want to get on it.
  • It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis- cause the world is a scary place right now and I need to read the worst case scenario to... I don't know, make myself feel better? Or something.
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King- cause the long journey continues, and also draws to a close. I'm also planning to read all his other books soon, but omitted them from the pile cause, you know, I know where they are if I need them.
  • Miss Buncle's Book by De Stevenson- cause it's my earliest Persephone buy and I still haven't read it. I'm getting on it.
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson- cause it's the bloggess and her other book made me lol the most. Loling is super important.
And that is the pile of books! There are so many women on it, mostly because these are genuinely the books I saw that I wanted to read imminently, but also because I have been reading so much Stephen King this year that I don't want my reading stats to completely go to shit. At this moment, I'm pretty excited to read all the things, so we'll see how long that lasts.


Have an excellent second Sunday, if you get a second Sunday! Otherwise, just try to not hate your Monday, I guess.

*It's not a serious thing so don't worry, I just have to be kept an eye on because of reasons so I had to have a series of uncomfortable and slightly painful things done to me

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Wind Through The Keyhole

I don't think it's any secret that I'm a big fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. I can't get enough of his ka-tet's noble journey throughout different landscapes and worlds to try and save the very fabric of reality itself, and I'm also super excited for the upcoming movie (mainly cause, have you SEEN Idris Elba?!) However. I also don't think it's any secret that the parts of these novels that are pure fantasy, sans savvy New Yorkers and trips to somewhere resembling our own world, are not exactly my favourite parts. Wizard and Glass is my least favourite of the series, for example, purely because it's a story about Roland's past, set entirely in Roland's world and ugh please just no.

It's really unsurprising to me, though, that The Wind Through The Keyhole, King's addendum to his Dark Tower series (published last, but set between books 4 and 5), delves deeper into the mythology of Roland's world. It's clearly a place that King loves exploring and creating in, even if I find it kind of tiresome, so let us all praise him for doing a thing that he loves. For my part, I'm still a little sore at the events of the 7th book, so the way this book teases us with a glimpse of the main characters at the beginning on the end, but otherwise focuses on two other stories felt like a little bit of an insult, at least to my Eddie, Susannah and Jake loving heart.

To it's credit, this book is structured really interestingly. Roland begins by telling one story, and then tells a story from his childhood within that story. I actually found the folk tale the more interesting one, because it felt to me like a pure fairy tale- a genre that King doesn't tackle very often (if ever...) but here is very good at. I know what you're thinking though (or actually, what I'm thinking)- if I don't like fantasy (mostly), then why do I like the tale that is fictional, even within the fiction?

I don't really have an answer, except to say that I guess I kind of like fairy tales, but also this one was REALLY COOL. There's a tiger and some murder and a quest, and yeah, I just really liked it. Roland's additional backstory in this book really didn't measure up to this secondary tale, and even felt like a plot device in order to just get to this piece of folklore. I didn't like the Roland stuff so much, but it was at least shorter, and who am I to chastise King for wanting to return to his happy place in such a way?

Besides, at least it wasn't as long as Wizard and Glass.

As always, you should probably take everything negative I've said about this book with a pinch of salt, since I finished it in a giant gulp and wasn't even mad about it. Because, you know, it's Stephen King. Even when he's not at his best, he's still kind of the best.

ONWARDS to the next one.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Films I Watched In April

Greetings, and welcome to a brand new blog part of my blog and whatnot. The function of this monthly post is threefold: firstly, to talk about films in general because I haven't done that for so long and I really like to do it, secondly, I have a limitless movie pass now which means I'm seeing more films than ever before (in theory) and thirdly, my friend who I basically just see movies with does a thing where she records all the films she's seen in a year, and you know, I wanna too.

Thus here beginnith all the films watched in my 29th year.

Raw
I feel like I must have known once upon a time that Raw was a french (actually belgian, but french language) film, but I managed to forget that before I saw it and so was faced with subtitles after a 9 hour day at work. No matter, because Raw was excellent- I was concerned before I saw it because I had heard horror stories of people throwing up in cinemas because of it, and because I'm really not good with scary movies, but this was not exactly what I would describe as a horror movie. The story follows Justine, a young girl who is a vegetarian and is just starting at vet school. Both of these things are relevant as the culture of hazing at the school leads to Justine's consumption of a raw rabbit kidney (a vegetarian! Eating a raw rabbit kidney!) after which point, things get WEIRD. Rather than a horror movie though, this is really just a coming of age drama with just the tiniest bit of cannibalism thrown in for funsies and also for some kind of symbolism that I'm sure I'd be able to decipher if I was a smarter person. Regardless, this film was excellent, and well worth the subtitle reading that it entailed. The general thing I learnt from the movie: Give a vegetarian meat, and it's just a matter of time until she's chowing down on some tasty tasty human flesh.

Monty Python and the Life of Brian
I shouldn't really count this cause I fell asleep abouuuut half an hour into this and only woke up for 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' (for similar reasons, I'm not counting Boys Don't Cry) BUT it's my Good Friday film, I'm trying to start a tradition where I watch it every year, and it is great.

Get Out

Get Out, however, I saw twice last month (and once the month before that, YES IT IS THAT GOOD and yes I really do have that cinema pass thing). You really need to see it to understand how good it is, but as well as exploring race relations and other big important issues, it's just genuinely an excellent story, thrilling and disturbing and omg how evil are white people? Sooooo evil, you guys. You really really have to see it thought because honestly, I just can't do it justice.

The Theory of Everything

Ah, The Theory of Everything is a sad one. Basically Stephen Hawking's life story, from his time at Cambridge/diagnosis of MND, it comes as no surprise to me that Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for this role, even if I didn't think the film itself was perfect. It's a little oddly paced, and some of the events are not really fully explored, but this makes sense when one considers that the source material is from Hawking's ex-wife's memoir rather than his own words. Stunning performances, and well worth a watch, just not a perfect film (like, you know, Get Out is, for instance).

Bowling for Columbine

I have seen this film many many times, but I needed my boyfriend to see it and Netflix has it and everything. I haven't seen it for a while, so I was expecting it to be dated, but if anything its ideas about gun control and why Americans are so damn trigger happy are more relevant now than when it was first released. Always worth a watch, if only for the cartoon history of America (WHITE PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE).

Beauty and the Beast

I mean. We all know the deal with Beauty and the Beast right? It's beautiful and magical and yes I am of course talking about the cartoon and not the live action version that I can't quite bring myself to go and see. White men are particularly terrible in this, but I sure had a fine time watching it and I'm still singing all the songs from it, tbh.

So. There we have April.
Films for the year so far: 6
Onwards we shall march!