Tag Archives: Books

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2019 and a New Reads List

The best thing about the new year is signing up to a new Goodreads Reading Challenge. So far, over the last few, I have failed to complete a single year – or if I’ve got anywhere near I wouldn’t know as I’ve failed to log the books I’ve read.

There’s not much to the rules of the challenge to be honest. You input how many books you want to read that year and then, as you complete each one, you check them off on the GR app. It’s quite addictive, at least in the first couple of months as you rack ’em up and see you percentage achieved rise (I’m currently on 12% with six out of 50 books done).

Anyway, I love to read and I love to buy books even though I shouldn’t and I’ve got some real peaches in the immediate pile (anyone else got piles in order of importance?). Here are some of the ones I’m most excited for:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I mean, what a title. It’s also meant to be an absolute belter so bring it on!

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I’m obsessed with this cover and even more intrigued by the subject matter. I think this is definitely next in line for me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I’ve recently read Eileen by the same author (reviewed here) and it was gorgeous so this is a no-brainer. It sounds awesome:

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature.

Men without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami

I’ve always been a big fan of Murakami but somewhere along the line I read too much of his work and needed to take a long break. I’m back in the game now after I read his little short Birthday Girl. There’s just something about his prose.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

A classic I’ve not yet read though I’ve devoured the film many times and adore it (boo Polanski). Cannot wait to dip into this deeply unsettling world again.

Help by Simon Amstell

I love Simon Amstell and find him very clever and funny. Darren and I have seen him a couple of times doing stand-up and that’s was enough to make me snatch this up as soon as I saw it.

From a complicated childhood in Essex to an Ayahuasca-led epiphany in the Amazon rainforest, this story will make you laugh, cry and then feel happier than you’ve ever been.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I’m currently reading this bad boy and it’s started well with a definite The Woman in Black flavour (which is mentioned on the cover with a bi-line by Susan Hill). As far as I’m concerned you can’t lose with Gothic literature but I just hope this is good as I suspect it’s going to be.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

I got the movie tie-in novel after seeing the very, very good movie adaptation on Monday night (review to follow). I loved Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel and frankly, I wanted more as soon as the credits rolled. So this is going to be a lot of fun. What an ingenious idea for a scam though.

Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others.

Adèle by Leïla Slimani

Slimani’s Lullaby (know as The Perfect Nanny in some countries) was dynamite. In turn beautiful, odd and shocking, it tells the story of how the perfect nanny came to murder the young children in her care. Adèle centers around a seemingly perfect wife, mother and career woman (of the same name) who leads a very secret double life.

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I might have to cancel the rest of the month so I can get fully immersed. I will be reviewing as I go too so watch this space.

What are you reading?

Write the Book

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

There’s an old adage that suggests that every person has at least one book ‘in them’. I don’t know if this is true but I often think about whether or not I might be someone who does. My gut tells me no, absolutely not, that the fiction I love to read is way beyond me. I like dark and intricate plots – and I know I’d never have the attention to detail required to produce anything in this league. I struggle with timelines at the best of times (everything was the other day to me, even 1996) but I can’t imagine skilfully being able to foreshadow or call back to the exact moment a character turned from ordinary person to arch nemesis of the world.

For as long as I can remember my mother has been on at me to just “Write the book”. I believe I can write competently, it isn’t that I doubt that – I just don’t know if I have that something extra that she thinks I have. Writers are the most extraordinary people in the world to me. Take Stephen King, the man who wakes up every morning and writes a set number of words (1000) no matter what. Come rain or shine he throws his words on the page and something usually sticks. The man has produced some of the most memorable horror characters of all time. He’s built worlds that might look just like ours but are actually more horrible/magical/strange that we could ever imagine. Whether you’re a fan or not, this commitment is incredible – and it seems healthy and cathartic to me too. Perhaps I should try it, just open a Word doc every day and GO.

But if fiction is out of the question, then what? I haven’t enough true story in me for a memoir (I know that’s never stopped a lot of people) plus I’m way too young (LOL). Self help seems like a bit of cheek – who am I to believe I have wisdom to share with the world? This morning I had a Cadbury’s Crème egg for breakfast because “I’m ill”. I know about love, heartache and grief but so do most people. What on earth is my USP?

This is one of the million dollar questions that keeps me awake at night – what was I put on this earth to do, really? Perhaps that’s my pitch: ordinary 40 year old woman goes out into society to figure out her true purpose? Hey it could work. Failing that I’ll just whip up a book of my favourite filthy jokes, none of which are suitable for this blog post.

Happy Wednesday all!

UPDATE: I wrote this for my work blog and thought I’d share it here too.

Eileen

Eileen is one of those novels that grips you to the final page but doesn’t quite give you the pay off you’re expecting. Not that you really mind when the character is as rounded as Eileen Dunlop. The writing here is so descriptive that Eileen practically pops off the page and this is the reason I really enjoyed it.

The story goes a little something like this: Eileen is a middle-aged woman when we meet her but as the narrative unfolds, she regales us with a tale from her early twenties. A tale it seems that has paved the way for the rest of her life, up to present day.

The daughter of an ex-cop, Eileen dreams of the day she can leave her dreary life and unfulfilling job behind. When glamorous Rebecca Saint John arrives at the juvenile prison Eileen works at, our protagonist’s world is set ablaze with bizarre and potentially devastating consequences.

Oooooh!

Again, what I enjoyed most about this book was the way Ottessa Moshfegh paints a picture. Eileen is not an attractive character per se but she is so vividly molded by the author that she becomes something else altogether. As she just about tolerates her home life and the increasingly unstable behaviour of her largely unloving father, Eileen builds an inner fantasy life around the prison.

Lusting after one of the guards, our girl engineers scenarios in which he falls in love with her and her (love) life finally begins (she also dedicates a great deal of her waking day waiting outside his apartment in her car). She also admits that the youthful inmates she’s around every day have an effect on her too and I like the scenes in the prison the best. I love a prison setting and the psychology of why people do what they do and Eileen gives us snippets of their lives to savour.

When Rebecca appears we explore this element in more depth. I couldn’t really fathom where the ending would take us, apart from knowing that Eileen finally leaves her depressing home town for a bigger life – and this is part of the reason I enjoyed my experience so much.

The ending is probably the only part that made me scratch my head a little bit. It’s not that it’s bad and it’s not that it doesn’t fit, it’s just turned out differently to what I expected and I think that’s a good thing. I won’t spoil it but if you do read, I’d like to know your thoughts.

I definitely miss Eileen Dunlop. She’s not your typical heroine but I’d love more of her. I’d like to know more about how her life developed after the events of this book – and way beyond. As a middle-aged woman, she alludes to some of the relationships she’s had throughout her life and I’d like to hear her talk about them.

Ottessa is a great novelist and I will be exploring more. STAT.

Book details:

Eileen
Publisher: Vintage; 01 edition (18 Aug. 2016)
ISBN-10: 1784701467
ISBN-13: 978-1784701468
Gifted paperback for Christmas

What are you currently reading?

UPDATE: Realised after posting (no I didn’t, Meghan told me) that I’d been calling it ELAINE throughout. Jesus.

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is a book I read a lot when I was a teen. I was thrilled to find a copy in HMV the other day when I also bought Rosemary’s Baby in a delicious 2 for £5 offer. I re-read it over last weekend and found it just as sinister and creepy as ever. I think I had forgotten just how sexually active our Laura was and now I’m older I must say it makes me feel uncomfortable to be privy to the way she’s exploited.

Female sexuality aside and her right to autonomy over her own actions and body, she’s such a vulnerable character let down by so many people around her.

The diary is a companion piece to the series’ and film, and fills in some of the blanks around the mystery of Laura’s murder. Sort of.

I never really picked up on any clues back in the day but they are there. The diary itself doesn’t appear until episode 4 in Season 2 of the show. I read it with sadness and despair, the latter of which is an emotion that escalates in Laura from an incredibly young age.

From 12 to 17 she’s tormented by visits from BOB, a presence that takes great pleasure in humiliating and torturing her. At night he takes her to woods and does unspeakable things to her, leaving her frightened to sleep at night.

As she reaches puberty and discovers sex and drugs, she is able to numb herself against some of the trauma but at a price. Her antics further alienate her from her best friend Donna, her parents, her peers – and as she gets in with some deeply unsavoury characters – namely Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault – and gains employment at One-Eyed Jack’s – she begins to spiral out of control.

Sadly we know what happens to Laura (her fate is revealed in the first episode of Twin Peaks) and it’s heartbreaking to witness the demise of such a young woman with so much to offer the world. She is such a greatly complex character and as mesmerising to read as she is watch onscreen.

This is a book that could be triggering to some. At times it is extremely explicit and does allude heavily to the abuse Laura is routinely subjected to. When I read it as a teen I thought I was so edgy reading about sex but as an adult, I am far more aware of the darkness inside this character and of the injustice of it all. It’s really upsetting.

I’m on a massive Twin Peak revival tip at the moment and I’m currently plowing through the TV show at a rapid pace. I’ll be revisiting it on this very blog in the coming weeks. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Laura, once of my favourite fictional characters of all time.

Book details:

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (8 Dec. 2011)
ISBN-10: 9781849838627
ISBN-13: 978-1849838627
Bought paperback (new)

What are you currently reading?

Conversations with Friends

If Conversations with Friends were a film (and maybe it will be), I would describe it as ‘talky’. This is not a criticism because I like my entertainment peppered with well written dialogue, be it written word or on the screen. But they don’t half go on the central characters and literally do what it says on the tin.

The story itself is quite straightforward. Best friends and former lovers Bobbi and Frances meet Melissa, a well-known journalist when she interviews them for a magazine. The pair quickly become entangled with their new friend and her literary life, though Frances more so with Melissa’s actor husband, Nick. So begins an interesting and at times stressful foursome that looks set to change things up forever.

Sally Rooney‘s writing is delicious. Honestly, I don’t often read a book and wish deeply that I could write in the same way. There’s something about the introspection of Frances that got deep under my skin and I wouldn’t call her a like-able character by any stretch. I may have related to her at times but she isn’t someone who immediately demands sympathy and she would be the first person to admit she is a cold fish. Melissa doesn’t warm to her initially either, not because she can sense a closeness between Frances and Nick but because she’s unfriendly and stand offish.

Despite this, we follow Frances as she becomes more involved with Nick and she even goes to stay with the couple in France for the Summer, Bobbi in tow. Frances struggles with these new feelings of vulnerability but also has to face an unspecified (to begin) health condition, her relationship with her alcoholic father and her own sense of belonging.

Bobbi is an interesting character, a woman who repels as much as she intrigues and she can be a lot to take. She doesn’t let up on Frances however and always calls her out on her shit. I think we all need a friend like that. I don’t really like the girls that much, though I love flawed characters and love to read them. Maybe I’m a little bitter about my own youth slipping away and having to be faced with these two beautiful girls with everything going for them and talent to spare. All I know is that I devoured this book in a couple of days and truly can’t wait for Rooney’s next book, Normal People.

The writing makes me want to cry and at one point Frances ponders the fact that she doesn’t have her own personality yet. I felt that. I mean, I hope I do now but I always used to worry that I was a brittle cocoon of emptiness just waiting to solidify – so I really felt that.

I miss it already.

Book details:

Conversations with Friends
Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (1 Mar. 2018)
ISBN-10: 9780571333134
ISBN-13: 978-0571333134
Bought mass market paperback (new)

What are you currently reading?

Rebecca (Book) Review

I know, I know, it’s criminal in some respects that I hadn’t read this before last month. It boasts everything I hold dear in literature (Gothic landscapes, strong women, drama, murder, suspense) and yet somehow I just never got round to it. It’s the same with Jane Austen, I feel close to the subject matter but I’ve never actually read any of it (sue me). But when I saw this cover I was sold immediately and a lot of friends weighed in to confirm that this is their favourite book of all time. Well, it was clearly time to pick it up and give it a go.

And?

Well! It’s one of the best books of all time, isn’t it? While I thought I might be predicting quite a lot of what happened, I can’t be sure I haven’t seen an adaptation and forgotten about it in my 40 year life. But it was magnificent and delicious – and above all, relatable. In the sense that haven’t we all, particularly as women in a patriarchal world compared ourselves unfavourably to others a thousand times?

That our heroine, the unnamed narrator and new Mrs de Winter is living in the shadow of a perfect and lovable ghost is heartbreaking, who could possibly compete? Thankfully there is always more to the story than meets the eye and the tale that unravels is classic and cool as fuck.

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Vintage Rebecca cover

In case you’re like me and have been happily chilling under a rock all your life, a cheeky little synopsis for Rebecca:

Our narrator, a naive 20 something companion to a rich American lady meets wealthy widower Maximilian de Winter in Monte Carlo. Despite her lack of life experience, the two embark on a swift courtship that results in marriage. Our nameless heroine soon finds herself back in England, living on Maxim’s sprawling West Country estate Manderley and the phrase fish out of water has never rung truer. Haunted by the ghost (figuratively) of Maxim’s first wife, the breathtakingly beautiful Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter spends her time wandering the estate, wondering if she’s made a massive mistake.

While Maxim isn’t cruel per se, he is often aloof and Mrs de Winter puts this down to him still being in love with his late wife, who drowned in a tragic boating accident only a year before. She might even be able to get on with it if i wasn’t for the deliberate cruelty of bitchy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (surely stiff competition for Nurse Ratched as baddest villainess of all time), who adored Rebecca and relishes every tiny dig.

But as mentioned above, things are not always as cut and dry as they seem and there is plenty more drama before the book is over. Rebecca is an impeccably crafted, paranoid love story that will make you furious on one hand and desperately sad on the other.

What I enjoyed most is that it gives us a heroine who is cut from a different cloth. She’s mousey, angsty and nothing special as far as she’s concerned and yet she has the steel to stay and fight for what she wants and women like that don’t get enough airtime. Her scenes with Mrs Danvers are stressful and every time Rebecca is mentioned by a staff member I wanted to scream – let it go people, she’s dead!

I think this is a book that will just keep giving, an annual revisit sounds like the most comforting thing I can think of and honestly, I enjoyed every word Daphne has set down for me. And lucky me, our local Picturehouse Cinema is showing Hitchcock’s adaptation on the big screen in a couple of months so I’ll be all over that like a rash.

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Various covers for Rebecca, including the copy I have (middle)

Book details:

Rebecca
Publisher: Virago (16 July 2015)
ISBN-10: 0349006571
ISBN-13: 978-0349006574
Gifted paperback (new)

What are you currently reading?

Dietland

*The first 3 episodes*

I want to talk about the TV adaptation of one of my favourite books in recent years (and apparently, my Book of 2016) – Dietland. It’s just started airing in the US and thankfully also on Amazon Prime – which is the greatest weekly treat. The first three episodes are up now and so far so good.

IMDB Synopsis

Plum Kettle is a ghostwriter for the editor of one of New York’s hottest fashion magazines. Struggling with self-image and fed up with how she’s treated by her boss and society, Plum sets out on a wildly complicated road to self-awakening. At the same time, everyone is buzzing over news reports about men, accused of sexual abuse and assault, who are disappearing and meeting untimely, violent deaths.

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My Thoughts So Far

Joy Nash is gorgeous and so likable as Plum – and she’s actually fat! But I can’t help thinking she’s too good-looking and not fat enough – wouldn’t this be even better if she didn’t fit into the ‘beautiful’ ideal at all? (Hate saying anyone isn’t ‘enough’ of anything but hopefully you know what I’m trying to say) – that said she’s so bloody lovely, I want to see her in everything coming up, please.

Julianna Margulies as Kitty Montgomery is PERFECTLY cast – I despise her in every way. What a prize A CUNT

♥ I’d give anything to visit the beauty closet for just one hour – ten minutes, even

♥ It is never tiring to watch abusers get their comeuppance, even when it’s brutal and violent (particularly then)

♥ I really like that Malleck Ferguson is such a poorly disguised version of a well-known fashion photographer and abuser – down to the minute details of his over-the-top glasses and personal style – LOL

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♥ Marlowe Buchanan is also cast well (she’s played by Alanna Ubach) and so far comes across as a bit of an arse with a God complex – proof that heroes and villains aren’t always cast in black and white

♥ Not enough Leeta (Erin Darke) – so they better bring her back again soon

♥ The closing speech at the end of Episode 3 made me cry. I won’t spoiler but it starts with “I don’t hate myself, society does” and it’s important and vital and above all TRUE

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I haven’t seen any violence towards sex workers or porn stars yet but I’ve read a discussion about it on Twitter and I’m not into it either. I know that the book tackles the porn industry on the whole and it opened my eyes when I read it – but I don’t think this should be a judgement of the women themselves, in either capacity. I’ll see when it comes along how I feel but I am hoping that it doesn’t let me down.

I can’t wait until the next episode, TV just got GREAT again!

Anyone else watching? What are your thoughts?