Sunday, 7 July 2019

Review of 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker

Review of 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker

Aaaaand on to the first re-read of the year. I am a BIG Dracula fan. I took my time getting about to reading it the first time, and held off until I was 20. Basically I was still in the teenage phase of not wanting to like something because everyone said it was good so I didn't read it (so many regrets) until way after pretty much everyone on my uni course had given it a go. 

Anyhow, the first time around I read it for a first wave feminism module at uni and it was so interesting to approach the book from that perspective. This time around, however, my reading felt a little less focused and it allowed me the chance to notice a whole lot that I'd overlooked the first time around.

Dracula begins when Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania on business to meet a Count. When he arrives, the locals seem to fear him, wearing garlic around their necks and crossing themselves. He is attacked by wolves on his way to the Count's castle, but saved by the Count himself. Once he's there, he begins to notice that things aren't how you would expect. He never sees the Count during the day, most of the castle is closed off to him, and Jonathan ultimately realises he's trapped.

Back in England, his betrothed Mina Harker is staying with her closest friend Lucy Westenra, who is trying to deal with the (so hard) problem of having three very different men seeking her hand in marriage. However, soon Lucy's behaviour starts to become very concerning. She sleepwalks, and when she returns to her bed she seems pale and almost lifeless. 

Soon begins a battle between one of the most esteemed doctors of the time, Professor Van Helsing, and a force making nightly visits to Lucy, intent on draining her blood ...

This is one of the key Gothic horror novels, sitting alongside the likes of The Monk, Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe's poetry. It has all of the key elements of being an OG Gothic novel: a gloomy moody setting, supernatural elements, the sublime, the question of morality vs depravity, and a side helping of sexually depraved women. The language isn't too dense or antiquated, and whilst the book is quite lengthy, it does switch between various narratives to keep you on your toes.

I am such a big fan of the book, and would put it in my top ten all-time reads. I love how much popular fiction has come from the idea of Dracula put forward in this book, and thinking about how much of an impact it has had globally and across time just blows my mind. Basically, if you want to get into Gothic fiction (who doesn't?), this is a great book to start with, or use to delve deeper into the genre. 

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Saturday, 29 June 2019

Review of 'Doing It!' by Hannah Witton

Review of 'Doing It!' by Hannah Witton

This is my first (and I think only?) non-fiction read of 2019 so far. Hannah's a Youtuber that I've been following for quite a few years now, and when she released her first book I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. Her Youtube channel focuses on breaking down taboos and talking about sex in a positive and inclusive way, which is pretty much what the book covers too.

The book isn't really what I'd expected, though I don't think that's a bad thing. Every couple of pages includes bold designs to break up the text so that visually, the book doesn't end up being a whole mass of text and information. Working in publishing makes me wonder though whether this was done more to bring the book up to the length of a full book, rather than it being a bit on the short side. Sceptics aside, it's a nice touch for teens who might feel overwhelmed reading masses of small text on a topic they may be struggling to completely come to terms to.

I really feel as though the book is aimed at teens rather than being young adult or adult fiction. Though this meant that it erred on feeling a bit too 'young' for me, you'd also hope that by my mid-twenties I'd have most period/sex ed things figured out by now. I do think it's better that it's aimed at a younger audience, as it includes a lot of topics not covered by most sex-ed curricula (and 100% definitely not covered by the one I experienced at a Catholic school). It's important that it is written in an accessible style for teens, so whilst it wasn't something that I completely enjoyed, I feel as though that sort of made it better.

My favourite thing about the book is how inclusive it is. Hannah uses inclusive language in terms of gender and sex, as well as information on LGBTQA+ relationships and safe sex. The book features chapters from others (including Juno Dawson who is just FAB) on topics that Hannah wouldn't necessarily know about, including what it's like to be a man with a porn addiction, and being uncomfortable in your sex during puberty. I think it's so important that she's decided to have these chapters in the book written by people who have experienced things that she could only talk about in a more abstract way.

I'm giving this 3 stars, because although I think it would be a great book for teens, I found myself skipping through a few bits, and found the format with all of the bold patterns separating things a little jarring.

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Sunday, 12 May 2019

Review of 'The Leopard' by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

Review of 'The Leopard' by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

It's been a while since I've sat down on here to review a classic, hasn't it?! This took me SO long to read, and has absolutely put me behind with my Goodreads target for the year, but I am done and free and never have to read it again. This whole statement probably tells you a lot about how I found the book ...

You see, I LOVE reading classics and being all 'yeah, I did that, and it was okay' and knowing that I never have to read it again. There have been so many classics that I've adored, and you're never going to like them all, and this was one that I just never feel as though I truly got into.

The Leopard is the top-selling novel in Italian history, and often heralded as one of the Italian classics we've all got to give a go. Set in the 1860s, it discussed the downfall of the Italian aristocracy from the point of view of an old Sicilian family. The main character sees the downfall happening, but is helpless to prevent it and realises that he will be the last of the Leopards (his family's sort of emblem, sort of idea of their own embodiment).

If I'm being totally honest, because I read this on my Kindle it was something that I dipped in and out of rather than reading in big blocks, and I've struggled to keep up with any sort of plot strand that kept its way throughout the book. It's been a few months since I read it, but even almost as soon as I finished I had hardly any memory of what really happened in the whole text.

I'm going to give this two stars because it was interesting to learn about Italian history (something I know almost nothing about) and I'm glad I went for it and pushed myself to read it, but I just didn't find it interesting.

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Monday, 6 May 2019

Review of 'All the Bright Places' by Jennifer Niven

Review of 'All the Bright Places' by Jennifer Niven

It has been a few months since I've read this, but all the plot strands and my FEELINGS came rushing back to me as soon as I picked the book up again. Although I think that speaks for itself a little bit, I'm going to hammer home the fact that I adored this book and it surpassed all the expectations I had for it. 

Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Finch is well known at school for struggling with his mental health, being a bit rowdy and all in all a little out of the ordinary. Violet on the other hand spends all of her time desperate not to be noticed. When Finch realises he's not alone up there, he coaxes Violet off the ledge, and lets everyone think that she came up to the bell tower to save him to stop rumours spreading.

You see, Violet's had a tough time of it recently. After losing her sister, she's struggling to know who she is, and what she wants to do. Finch and Violet are paired to work together on a school project, and it helps her more than she ever imagined. Violet's survivor's guilt is extreme, and Finch helps her to see the brighter side of things, but things aren't going so well for Finch. Suffering with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, he sets out on a downward spiral that only Violet even begins to comprehend.

I won't lie, I spent the last 100 pages of this book crying. I mean full on weeping. Ironically I picked it off my shelf because another book looked 'too sad', but I did read this when I had the flu so maybe that's partly responsible for the heartbreak?

There were SO many things in this book that I feel are really important to include in books, especially YA books that are likely to be read by young people who may be struggling with their mental health:

1.) Friendship is important, and it can help (or it can hinder). You're never alone no matter how much you think you are.

2.) Bipolar disorder is not rapid: you don't necessarily switch moods over and over again instantly every day, like how it's often portrayed. Through the dialogue that Finch has with his counsellor, we learn a lot about being bipolar, how it can affect people differently, and ways to cope with it.

3.) There are chapters from Finch's perspective. We're not outsiders looking on to a third person character that sits in the background with a mental illness: Finch is at the very heart of it, and we even get insights to his diary and deepest thoughts on his struggles.

4.) There's no easy cure. No matter how much you love someone or how much you try or how much they try, mental illness can warp things and make everything very difficult.

5.) There is a barrier between young adults and adults in their community (their parents, teachers etc). I hope that one day this softens, especially in the UK with the whole ideal of the 'stiff upper lip'. Teens are expected to just deal with life when hormones and school pressures make it almost impossible.

There are so many more points I could pick out but I already feel like I've spoken too long on this! If you haven't guessed already, I'm going to give this 5 stars because it was just ... wow.

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Sunday, 28 April 2019

Review of 'On the Other Side' by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Review of 'On the Other Side' by Carrie Hope Fletcher

I FINALLY feel like I'm making some headway into getting all my reviews up (though I'm fairly sure I said that back in January and I'm a solid three months behind again). However, this does mean I've got some excellent books to share with you on the way that made for great reads, and I'm so excited to write about them all!

On the Other Side is a story all about love and loss and secrets. 82-year-old Evie dies peacefully in her sleep, but can't quite pass into heaven. Instead she's trapped in a (pretty pleasant) purgatory that exists for her in her old apartment building. Evie's soul is too heavy to pass over into the afterlife; she's too weighed down with the secrets of her past.

Evie's transported back to when she was 27, and deep down she knows exactly what's keeping her at bay, though it's hard to delve into the wounds of her past. Born to a wealthy family, she was forced to leave her one true love, and marry a man with a good title, but in order to leave her past behind her, Evie might have to delve into exactly that, and find her way back to her true self.

The story behind this is like nothing I've heard of, or read before. It really makes me admire Carrie even more because wow it takes a big creative streak to come up with this story. I'm sure there are similar books out there that I've never heard of, but this one really came together well.

The book discusses a whole lot of important topics, including love, loss, friendship and family ties. But one of my favourite things is that the book contained multiple key characters from the LGBTQA community, and that they didn't both have the same sexuality. One character is a gay man who's struggling to come to terms with his feelings in a world and family that has never even considered the possibility of him feeling this way. The other is a pansexual woman who explains being pan in a way that everybody can understand, and I'm so grateful for Carrie putting these in. It's so important that we read diverse books and writers include diverse characters.

There's a whole lot of magical realism in here, so if that's not your thing then you might want to steer clear. But if it is, then this is such a comforting (though tear-jerking) quick read to go for.

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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Review of 'The Rumour' by Lesley Kara

Review of 'The Rumour' by Lesley Kara

I've not read a good thriller in a LONG time, or at least I hadn't before this. I find thrillers either make me all 'oh my GOSH I'll never turn a light off again' or 'wow this person has some very creepy ideas, goes into a LOT of graphic detail and there's not really much plot'. This one (thankfully) fell into the former category. Even though I read this a few months ago now, the writing was so vivid that I can STILL remember specific scenes from the book.

Joanna, our main character, lives in a little town by the sea, a single parent to her son. Still on good terms with his dad (and let's face it, still a little in love with him, though they've never really been a couple), she has a fab support network with her mum helping out too.

Life is peaceful, if not a little boring, until Joanna hears that notorious child killer Sally McGowen is living under a new identity in their home town. Desperate to make some friends at her kid's school (and for him to stop being bullied because of the colour of his skin), Joanna spreads the rumour to a book club. Soon things escalate, and it's all everyone's talking about. 

Joanna begins to suspect almost everyone she knows, and when strange things start happening at school, she finds herself more convinced than ever that Sally's among them. Michael (her baby daddy, for want of a better word), is an investigative journalist, and her son begins to be targeted by someone trying to scare them into stopping looking into things. The whole family are swept up in something they never asked to be a part of, and if Sally killed a child once, what's to stop her doing it again?

I LOVED this book, but if you're going to read it I would recommend ignoring the endorsement quotes on it. There are so many things they spoilered for me in the book by saying things like 'keeps you guessing until the final page' which showed there was a twist on the last page. Just WHY.

It contains a couple of graphic violence scenes, so here's a little trigger warning for that.

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Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Review of 'This is Going to Hurt' by Adam Kay

Review of 'This is Going to Hurt' by Adam Kay

This was the first book I finished in 2019, and 16 or so books later (I'm absolutely that behind on reviews), it's still the best book I've read this year. I saw so many people recommending it all over my twitter feed and Instagram, and now I'm one of the people that just will not shut up about it.

Adam Kay is an ex-junior doctor turned author. Seven years after he quit working for the NHS, he's published a collection of diary entries that he found from when he was working in the gynaecology department. These are elaborated on for the book and definitely don't fit the whole 'I got up and ate breakfast at 7am' style.

The book tracks a number of stories that really expose what it's like to be a junior doctor for the NHS. Kay writes about the pressures of the job, the long hours and the absolutely unimaginable strain it puts on you. He talks about how he's expected to perform surgery 10 hours into a shift, but gets pulled over by the police on his way home because he's so exhausted he's not really fit to drive. 

There are some incredible funny anecdotes in the book too. The most memorable one for me is a story about him helping a woman to give birth. As the head comes out the father shouts 'oh my GOD OUR BABY HAS NO FACE'. The mother freaks out, the baby shoots out and she's torn in a whole manner of ways. Kay then lets the father know that most babies are born face down and he was only looking at the back of its head...

The book really exposes what a wonderful thing our NHS is, and why we should do everything we can to save it. I think we all should give this book a read because it personalises the statistics we see about our struggling health service, and really shows how important it is to keep.

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