Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review of 'The House of Special Purpose' by John Boyne

Review of 'The House of Special Purpose' by John Boyne

Historical fiction is my literary guilty pleasure. It's something that I always associate with older people reading, but I love it. John Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and whilst I loved reading that, I honestly had no idea that he wrote adult fiction too. This is a book club read for the little club at work, and I'm so glad I joined it, because otherwise I never would have picked this up.

The House of Special Purpose is set during a period of history that I don't really know much about at all. It focuses on the infamous last Romanov family, and the deadly corruption spread through Russia by Rasputin. 

The story is told in parts that span decades. Georgy is an elderly Russian emigre living with his dying wife Zoya. Amidst caring for her in these tender moments, he tells the story of his youth. He was brought to Tsar Nicolas Romanov's winter palace in St Petersburg to act as a friendly bodyguard to his son.

Georgy thinks things are on the up for him, as he's taken out of his peasant town, but things in the palace are harder than he ever anticipated. With the stern Tsarina constantly looking over his shoulder, and political troubles making thinks tense throughout Russia, the family is on edge.

This tells the story of what *might* have happened to the Romanov family. It's a story of hope and fear and love and war and now I want to read everything else John Boyne has ever written.


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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'

Re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'

Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the absolute high sass levels of Mrs Weasley here? Honestly I think this is my favourite line of the entire series, and the fact that she says it to Satan's spawn aka Bellatrix, just makes it 100 times better.

You know what this post means - my journey through re-reading the Harry Potter series has come to an end. And I'm kind of gutted. Turning the last page of this book was like saying goodbye to an old friend that you won't be seeing again for a long time. I'm not sure if this will be the last time I'll read the series, but it'll definitely be a few years until I do so again. 

This last book is just absolute perfection. I adore it. It ties up every last plot thread, and still leaves you wanting more and more, which I think is exactly what you want from the last part of a good series.

The main thing I'd forgotten is how iffy you start to feel about Dumbledore. I've rewatched the films recently, and this negative side to him really doesn't come across that well. There's his relationship with Hitler-esque Grindelwald, his possible killing of his sister, and the fact that he really did protect Harry so that he could die at the right time. I'd love to see how he's portrayed in the new films coming out, but I honestly won't be going to see them. I can't agree with Rowling's happiness to cast Johnny Depp, or the fact that despite Dumbledore being apparently gay, they're not going to include that in any of this new area of the franchise. Speaking of Dumbeldore's sexuality, now that I've re-read the whole series, I can safely say that you really can't pick up on any hints regarding his sexuality. Nothing. It all seems a little convenient to say that it wasn't explicitly written in, and it won't be shown in a film but it's definitely there. I'd rather no LGBT representation than this fake one.

Anyhow, I'm so sad to have finally finished the series. I've not loved anything this much since ... well probably since I read it last time. Please send me on good book series' to read now because oh my god I need to fill this void.

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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Review of 'Remember This When You're Sad' by Maggy van Eijk

Review of 'Remember This When You're Sad' by Maggy van Eijk

I'm not really a big non-fiction reader at all. They just don't appeal to me. But, I have thumbed through a few mental health books in my time, and to be honest, I've found them all a bit useless. They've told me what to do to live a happier life, rather than exploring different issues you may have etc. This book is different, gloriously different.

Remember This When You're Sad is one of those books where I was torn between devouring it because it was fab, and wanting to read it super slowly so that it lasted forever. It was just so good. I really wanted to keep it to myself to read over and over again, but knew it was something I had to share by passing to a friend. I've taken a whole load of photos of different pages to help me out in tough times instead of clinging onto it.

The book progresses through different areas of the body. We have the skin, where the author talks about self harm, the gut, where she discusses issues around body image, etc etc. Finally we move onto the scariest thing of all: the outside world. One of the reasons why I love this is that the book isn't about one thing that can negatively impact your mental health. It covers trauma, including sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, BPD, eating disorders, self harm, and a myriad of issues these things can cause. 

If I'm honest with myself, one of the reasons why I rarely read non-fiction books is that I find them intimidating. They're draining to read as your mind tries to absorb all of the facts and info found in them. Remember This When You're Sad took that away for me. It's filled with little sketches, lists and personal anecdotes to break up the intensity of the book, which is exactly what I need.

I would definitely recommend this book if you want to read a good mental health book. It's the best one of its kind that I've ever read!

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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've been re-watching the Harry Potter movies alongside re-reading them, and as I've now finished re-watching and re-reading them all, can I take a moment to say HOW did I think that this was the most heartbreaking thing I could read from Rowling? Because I was not prepared to read The Deathly Hallows again. But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Review of 'A Question of Power' by Bessie Head

Review of 'A Question of Power' by Bessie Head

I'm officially into 2018 in my reviews now. I'm only a *couple* behind, so here we have it: the first book I completed this year. A Question of Power is a book that's now on a course I took at uni, and I really wanted to see why they chose it, how it was integrated, and how I felt about it in relation to other books on the course. Because, y'know, I miss studying. 

I found this book pretty heavy going. It's been a couple of months since I've read something that I would class as literary fiction, and it was honestly tough to get back into. A Question of Power is a story told in two parts. One part of the book is told by a narrator who knows what's going on. Elizabeth is a mixed race woman from South Africa who has recently moved to Botswana. In the day time she works first as a teacher and then in a communal garden growing food. But, ever so gradually, at night she begins to lose her mind. Elizabeth loses her grip on reality, and is plagued by three different presences: Sello, a monk, Medusa, an angry spirit, and Dan, a symbol of all that is bad. As we move through the book, the sane Elizabeth starts to lose hold of the narrative, and more and more of it becomes confused.

I found it so hard at times to keep track of where things where in the novel. It was hard to tell what was 'real' and what was a hallucination. But, I'm pretty sure that was part of the point: as Elizabeth became more confused, so did I. When she couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't, neither could I. 

I was absolutely fascinated by this tale of mental illness that was manifested as a real problem, not some kind of female hysteria. For a book published in 1973 it came across as genuinely progressive, and I definitely think it's a valuable read.

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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Review of 'The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Review of 'The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

I'm finally (sorta) catching up on my backlog of book reviews now, and this is the very last thing that I finished in 2017. I feel like everyone needs a feel good book at Christmas-time, and this was perfect. I was a little apprehensive at first because of how short it was (just over 200 pages), but the authors managed to cram so much depth into the characters; I was impressed. 

Lily resonated with me on a profound level. This was the first year that I didn't get totally overwhelmed by my excitement for Christmas, and I still haven't quite put my finger on why yet. It was the first year that Lily hadn't either. Usually she kicks off the twelve days of Christmas with a tree-putting-up ceremony, and from then on launches into full on Christmas mode.

This year, everything was changing for Lily. Her granddad, who she had been caring for after he got ill, decided to move away to her aunt's and receive more around the clock care. Lily was gutted, and Christmas didn't feel worth celebrating anymore. 


Dash loved Lily, and though he hadn't said those three little words out loud yet, he was keen to make his girlfriend enjoy her favourite time of year. So, he decided to create 12 days of activities to make Lily happy again. Although things went wrong more than once, Dash wouldn't give up. But could Lily overcome her sadness in time for Christmas?

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Saturday, 13 January 2018

Re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

Re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

I finally did it: I got through this massive 700+ page book. I've always ranked it as my least favourite in the series (largely because of its size), but now I'm not so sure. I absolutely loved the depth that Rowling goes into in this one. There's a lot more action than I remembered, and I honestly think it's a shame that it's so goddamn long - a lot more people would read it if it wasn't! 

The Order of the Phoenix is where things really start to get dark. Just a prewarn here: there are going to be a whole load of spoilers coming up, so if you haven't read it (why?!), then stop here. 

First, politics really enters the stage. The ministry really want to pretend that everything's okay, and my GOD it made me angry. They bring Umbridge into the castle, discredit Dumbledore, and make everything a whole lot easier for Voldemort to return. Nice one guys. 

Umbridge is one of my favourite villains I've ever come across. She's just so hate-worthy. With her sweet voice and innocent demeanour, she's so unvillainous in her outward appearance that I'm somehow even more angry that she turns out to be harbouring some kind of demon inside her. 

Just pipping the post in things I love in this was the DA. Finally Neville starts to come out of his shell and we see him really step up his game. The outright bullying of Luna's mental state is something I definitely wasn't here for in these scenes, but I loved the fact that Harry and the gang played on Fudge's biggest fear by calling themselves Dumbledore's Army.

Now let's get on to the heartbreak. Sirius. I'm just not okay with it. I'm still pretty much raging that Harry was fooled into thinking his dream was a reality, and let's not even talk about how much of a bellend Kreacher was, but losing Sirius was downright upsetting. It was so avoidable and Harry's pain was genuinely touching. Life would be great if authors didn't kill off the good ones, ya know?

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