Sunday, 8 July 2018

Review of 'Wild Strawberries' by Angela Thirkell

Review of 'Wild Strawberries' by Angela Thirkell

Classics are something I adore to read. They teach me new words, the ways of the world at different time periods, and they're classics for a reason: usually they're fab. To say I was let down by Wild Strawberries is a bit of an understatement. It's part of Virago's Modern Classics series, and whilst it does document life at a particular point in time (the 1930s to be precise), it just fell short for me, making it my least favourite read of the year thus far.

The book follows the tale of Mary Preston who comes to live with her Aunt and cousins in their large wooded estate. She soon realises she's falling for her cousin (iffy in itself), but David doesn't notice her blatant attempts to spend time with him. Instead he becomes absorbed by a flapper-esque woman, letting Mary down at every turn. His widower brother John (another cousin), however does notice Mary and starts to care for her. It's a classic tale of wanting a bad boy whilst there's a nice guy waiting behind to pick up the pieces.

I think part of my issue with it is that there's a whole lot of outdated humour in it. Whilst the sexist/racist jokes in it are designed to be funny, they just aren't. As well as deciding to not censor the 'n-word' in this recent version, the publishers have a foreword detailing just how humorous the book is. Which set my hopes up high and then saw them crashing down.

In a way, it reminded me a little of an Enid Blyton book, but without the plot. There was no mystery for the cousins in this book to get involved in, but instead a stream of similar dinner parties, no real action and a whole host of vaguely incestuous comments.

There are so many genuinely incredible books from this period out there, and this just isn't one of them.


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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Review of 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman

Review of 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman

Can you *imagine* nervously putting this out as your debut novel and it being as big a hit as this? I mean, isn't this every author's dream?! Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has been reviewed by every book blogger and their mum at this point, but I'm going to drop in my two pennies worth.

The hype for this was all over the Internet towards the end of 2017 and early 2018, but I left off reading this for a couple of months until it had died down a little to give me time to read the book as objectively as I could. When I finally got around to it, I realised that in every review I'd read and Instagram caption, no one had ever mentioned that Eleanor *might* be on the autism spectrum. She's someone that must abide by a strict routine, she's incredibly intelligent and she finds stepping out of her comfort zone, especially engaging in social situations, extremely difficult. 

However you look at it, it's clear that Eleanor's anxiety is extreme. She has certain rituals and routines that make her feel safe and she avoids excessive interaction with others. Every Friday she buys two bottles of vodka, and prepares for a blissful weekend away from everyone, only interrupted by a weekly phone call from Mummy. 

As you progress through the book, it's clear that Eleanor has had a difficult past. From mentions of being in care, to her physical scars, to her lack of family, something is off. It takes the work of Raymond, her co-worker who befriends Eleanor, to dig beneath the layers and help her.

*SPOILERS FROM HERE ON*

If I'm honest, this didn't *quite* live up to my expectations, and I think it's in part because I'm a hopeless romantic. I wanted Raymond to like Eleanor as more than a friend, and because it seemed like he did, I felt absolutely betrayed when he found a pretty blonde girl to get with. I wanted Eleanor to be viewed romantically by someone, to help us all believe that it's possible to be admired and desired, even if you're a little odd. I felt the sting of rejection, even if Eleanor didn't.

The main saving grace was that the twist at the end was something I genuinely didn't expect. As I was reading the book, I was convinced that I'd guessed the twist, but in reality I had no idea. Honeyman threw a total red herring in our way to get us off the scent, and I have to say it worked pretty darn well.

I would still definitely recommend it, as I *know* I would have liked it a lot more without all the hype. Plus, I'm definitely still hoping that there will be a Part 2 where Raymond gets his act together!

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Monday, 2 July 2018

Review of 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins

Review of 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins

We may only be just over half way through the year, but I think this is going to be one of my main classics reads for 2018. It was lengthy, full of OTT description (my fave, no, really) and is hailed as being the first full detective story in English literature.

Written in the same epoch as Dickens' novels, the Bronte sisters' and Hardys', Collins explores the parameters of what a 19th-Century English novel can be. He uses the familiar multi-narrator tool to give us glimpses of the story from a variety of different viewpoints, making the story more intricate with each one. But, he goes beyond this with each narrator forming part of a mystery being examined by a number of detectives.

At the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to the Moonstone, a one-of-a-kind diamond plundered from the depths of India. Once it has been taken to England, a series of deaths connected to the diamond raise the suspicion that it is cursed. Knowing this, a malicious uncle leaves it to his niece in his will, hoping that it will bring despair upon her and her mother.

And it does, but not in the way you would expect. On the first night in the house, the Moonstone goes missing. As a local detective is brought in, everyone is under suspicion, from the servant girls right up to the head of the house. But the detectives come up with nothing. 

The rest of the story tracks the mystery surrounding the loss of the Moonstone, as well as minor mysteries entangled in this cursed object. 

If you want to understand in more depth the progression of the detective novel from its conception up to the modern day, I would definitely recommend starting with this, as it opens up a variety of tropes in traditional crime fiction.

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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Review of 'Living in the Past' by Jane Lovering*

Review of 'Living in the Past' by Jane Lovering*

Magical realism is something I've always struggled with in books. It might be because the first time I learnt about it I was reading an Ian McEwan novel (and I really don't get on with those), or it might be because I can't stand the clash between fantasy and reality. It's probably a bit of both.

The main premise of this book is that strange things start happening when Grace, our protagonist, goes to an archaeological camp site. Somehow she's seen people that no one else can spy, and everything feels a little bit off. Thankfully, although at first I found it hard to merge the realistic sodden camp life with these passages where Grace loses herself, the book was genuinely very well written and it meant that you could easily flit from one time to another.

Grace became a widow two years before the narrative commences, and she's still impacted by her loss every single day. Desperate to get Grace to start to reconnect with herself, her best friend takes her away to a very muddy camp site to take part in a dig. Grace is beyond reluctant at first, especially as staying in a tent in the middle of nowhere isn't exactly her idea of fun, but she eventually caves in.

Things get a little more heated when Grace starts to spend time with the head of the dig, Duncan. Moody, reclusive and a little bit mysterious, Duncan finds he can open up to Grace, and together they discover exactly what was going on at the site back when humans first lived on it.

I really did enjoy this once I'd got into it. I found it started off a little slow in the first few chapters, but it was definitely worth sticking with! The author created wholly believable characters, and explored the impact of grief well without making Grace shrug it off when she found a new spark (this happens WAY too often). I loved reading about a male character with flaws and anxiety. This book was refreshing, easy to read and ended at just the right point.

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Review of 'Cousin Henry' by Anthony Trollope

Review of 'Cousin Henry' by Anthony Trollope

I love it when I'm expecting a book to be a bit rubbish, but then I end up totally into it. Cousin Henry, originally published in 1879, looked completely dry. The jacket was dull, the title is dull, and the opening wasn't exciting either. BUT, I powered through and it ended up being a very insightful look into the idea of primogeniture and why it's flawed.

Isabel Brodrick had been living with her elderly uncle Squire Indefer Jones. After the death of her mother, Isabel found herself an unwelcome extra mouth to feed in the household of her father and step-mother, but since living with her uncle, she felt nothing but loved. 

As he grew older and more unwell, the squire knew that he needed to solidify his will. But there was one key problem. A man of tradition, Indefer Jones wanted to pass his estate down to the next male successor in his line, and keep it under the Jones name. However, he also loved his niece as a daughter, and knew deep down that it was right to give it to her. Indefer made a series of wills, changing his mind in each one. At the point of his death, it appears as though Indefer's left everything to Henry, but two of the men living on the land swear they were witnesses at the signing of a more recent will, leaving everything to Isabelle.

The main problem is that Indefer's heir is Cousin Henry. And he's a bit of a prick. Henry cares for himself and himself alone. He's a shit landlord, he's an awful master to the servants in the house, and he didn't even care about his late uncle. Isabel embodies everything that Henry's not. She would make an excellent landlord with her knowledge of the land and good business head.


This book challenges gender norms and the way society was constructed way back in the late 1800s, which is just incredible. Readers are shown that 'what if' that surrounds the idea of what would happen if you passed your land down to a shoddy heir. Isabelle is a strong woman, who is treated wrongly at every turn and holds her own. Emotionally abused by her stepmother, ignored by her father, wrongly disinherited by her cousin, she still refuses to agree to marry the man she loves because she wants to be independent before she does so. 

If you want to read a classic that challenges some of the norms that Dickens and Austen would normally gloss over, then this is a great one to go for!

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Monday, 18 June 2018

Review of 'No Filter' by Grace Victory

Review of 'No Filter' by Grace Victory

This year so far I've read more semi-autobiographical/non-fiction/self-help books than I have done in the rest of my life put together, and I'm kind of digging it. I've always found mental health based books a bit too tricky to handle: often they go in too deep, making them triggering, and then they 'resolve' it by telling you how to fix things (which never actually works).

I knew from the offset that Grace's book wouldn't be one of those. Grace Victory is a blogger and Youtuber from the UK who absolutely spends her time lifting people up. She's endlessly supporting the body positivity movement, crying out against racism, and genuinely making the world a better place. The idea of buying a Youtuber's autobiography had never appealed to me until Grace brought one out, because I knew it'd be different.

No Filter is a mixture between a look back on Grace's younger years and her growth from them, as well as an amazing resource for all kinds of issues. Grace tackles domestic abuse, PTSD, sexual abuse, self harm, depression, anxiety, loneliness, body image and just about everything a teenage girl could deal with. And not only does she talk about them in a non-judgemental way, she offers a whole variety of different websites you can get help from, phone numbers you can call and places to find information about what you're struggling with. There's no 'one size fits all' approach; as someone who's struggled in the past, Grace has clearly thought about the contents of this in a lot of detail and really considered all the different ways in which people might need to be helped.

I really think the consideration that she's put into this book is what makes it a winner. It's clear that Grace has put her absolute heart and soul into this book without making it a thing that's just nice for her to reflect on. She's hit the nail on the head with finding the thin line between giving details about your issues, and triggering people, or allowing them to go away with ideas about ways they can self-sabotage. And this isn't something that comes easy: so much care has been put into it, and this is why I think it's an incredible read.

This is a must-read for teen girls, and those in their early twenties, especially if you're going through a bit of a rough patch!


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Saturday, 16 June 2018

Review of 'Dadland' by Keggie Carew

Review of 'Dadland' by Keggie Carew

There are definitely a few set criteria that I judge a book on: its cover needs to appeal to me, the font needs to be a good size (12 Times New Roman is my dream) and the title has to intrigue me. Dadland was a book club pick at work, and it didn't fit any of my criteria, but I was determined to give it a go anyway. As it turns out, I should stick to my three-step book choosing plan ...

Dadland is written by the daughter of Tom Carew, an ex-special forces soldier in the UK suffering from dementia. As Tom loses more and more of the memories of his life, Keggie is determined to bring them to the surface. Tom was a guerilla soldier parachuted into France, and later Burma, in the second world war. Keggie narrates the stories of his bold encounters in France, interspersed with mind-blowing statistics. This was my favourite part of the book, but from then on it really went downhill.

As Keggie reflected on her dad's early life, she also described him as a father. Here's where the problems started for me: Keggie adores her father, and it's easy to see in the book. She looks up to him, she cares for him, she views him as a hero. Yet, he was a terrible father. She narrates the story in such a way that we blame her mentally ill mother for his affair, and we blame the war for his inability to spare one kind thought for anyone but himself. It's when you take a step back from this biography that you begin to see that everything has a severe bias.

The majority of the 'action' of the novel takes place in Burma, and here's where things started to drag. Each of the main characters here has multiple names that get used interchangeably and it makes this a book that you can't just leave and pick straight up again; you need to work to keep staying interested and sure of what's going on. 

All in all, I was SO hopeful when I started reading this, as the first couple of hundred pages were very strong, but it definitely tailed off as you got further through the book.

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