Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Art of a Covert Message

In the last 24 hours I have read two books which wanted to portray important messages:

Necessary Lies was written to raise awareness of the Eugenics Programme which was used in 1960s America to prevent 'undesirable' people having children, for example those with low IQs or epilepsy. Sterilisation was forced onto teenage girls, often without telling them. It was a barbaric practice. This story was so emotive because Jane, a newly-recruited social worker became so attached to one of her clients and Chamberlain is such a talented writer that the reader became just as attached along with her!

Only Ever Yours is a YA novel with a very very strong undertone of social commentary. In a world where girls are created and raised to believe that their looks are the most important and that their value is based on how boys view them, everything leads up to their 17th birthday when they are picked to be child-bearing companions, sex-giving concubines or undesirable chastities. The girls live in a world dominated by body-shaming, social media and beauty products.

Reading these in quick succession highlighted something pretty important to me. Although they both deal with emotive and important subjects, I loved one and...didn't love the other. The reason for that is obvious to me, one portrays their message with grace and is shrouded in a great story, the other seems so synthetically engineered to shove the message into your face as much as possible. Chamberlain even writes in her afterword that she could have picked much more shocking or harrowing cases on which to base her story, but she decided it would be more poignant to choose a run-of-the-mill case. I think she was right. I couldn't see past the message in Only Ever Yours, so I couldn't enjoy the story. It seemed to make the story repetitive to ensure that the message 'hit-home' and the ending seemed to have no purpose or addition to the storyline except to be hard-hitting. The compassion and honesty with which Chamberlain wrote Necessary Lies was infinitely better and I think it something worth bearing in mind when trying to portray messages in stories! A try-hard social commentary is prone to making people (or at least me) so averse to the message you're giving that it works against itself!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne

Gah, I have so many feelings about the book I have just devoured over the space of about 24 hours! I LOVED this:

The basic premise of the book is a girl who suffers with generalised anxiety and OCD, who is in recovery and trying to become 'normal' and fit-in at her new college where very few people know of her 'crazy episode'. But it is also so much more than that! This story incorporates femininity and girl-power with some really powerful statements and ideas! Not just that, but it has a Louise Rennison-esque feel as Evie struggles with the normal boy-related struggles of teenage life.

This book just really touched me. Bourne really did her research when writing this and it has paid off and created a really powerful and honest story of the real-life struggles of living with mental illness. Not just the symptoms...anyone can talk about how embarrassing, painful and inconvenient it can be to have a panic attack. There is so much more to it than that... what about the time when you start to feel better but keep second-guessing yourself? "I am nervous for this interview" - wait, is this normal? Or is this just my stupid brain playing up again? It's such a surreal experience to think that your brain, the thing that is controlling your whole body is actually the thing that is acting against you. It makes you waste time and doubt your personality - is this just me now? Am I now the person who can't be comfortable in social situations and can't deal with this high level of pressure anymore? I used to think I was so resilient...have I just changed? Not just that, but even when you feel better, relapse is like a black cloud which constantly hangs over you. It can be exhausting. The constant worry about making plans because they sound like a great idea right now but what if your brain has other ideas by then? And possibly one of the worst know you're getting worse again, you can feel it, but you cannot admit it to yourself. More than that, you definitely cannot admit it to those around you! Because yes, they may be supportive, but you know full-well how much they breathed a sigh of relief when you seemingly started to get better, they don't want to hear that you feel like you're back to square-one! It's draining for them too!

In reality, you really do get a different take on life. Logic becomes the enemy. One of the most hard-hitting lines in the book for me was "I know it is irrational, but it doesn't make it any less scary!" It's true, and the problem is that logic and rationality are the things that everyone else but you seem to have, which is the biggest barrier to them understanding what you're going through or offering any helpful advice. Then there's the situation where you encounter someone else who seems to be suffering like you. You feel like you should be able to say those magic words which help because "you've been there", but it strangely makes you feel speechless. You just compare yourself to them and no matter what conclusion you come to, it's very rarely "talking about this with this person is really going to help me." So who do you talk to? Instead you let it stew in your own brain for so long that you hate yourself. You feel guilty and weak because you're allowing a few tiny chemicals to beat you.

Evie goes through all this and it really got me thinking. I am sure I will be thinking about this for a very long time. However it is nowhere near as dark as it may sound! Intertwined with the humour and the empowering feminism, I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone! It's a great read and kept me hooked through every page! :)

Saturday, 9 January 2016

2015 Christmas Book Haul!!

Two posts in one day?! Yes, I really am taking my NY resolution seriously! 

This time, I bring you the wonderful collection of books I got for Christmas off my lovely family and boyfriend, I am so excited to read them all! :)

Aren't they pretty?! It also pleases me that they fit perfectly into rows! :)

In no particular order (except the order which I found the pictures...)
  1. Asking for It - Louise O'Neill (I have heard great things!)
  2. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
  3. Little Black Lies - Sharon Bolton
  4. The Art of Being Normal - Lisa Williamson (Already read so I could pass it on - loved it!)
  5. To Be A Cat - Matt Haig (My love of Haig makes him an obvious choice for a present!)
  6. High Society - Ben Elton (ditto Ben Elton)
  7. Very Good Lives - J.K Rowling
  8. Disclaimer - Renee Knight
  9. The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett
  10. Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent
  11. Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain
  12. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon (yes, I am a bit slow to get this one!)
  13. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
  14. Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter
  15. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins (I am so happy I waited to get this beautiful Waterstones edition!)
I am sure you can agree with me that my lovely family and boyfriend did a fabulous job, I cannot wait to read them! What books are you most excited to read this year? :) 

A (slightly late) 2015 wrap-up!

Wow, it has been far too long since I last posted. Life has been pretty busy! But, I don't think it would be fair to let 2015 go by without me reviewing my year, book-style. 

This year has been a really important one in my 'reading life'. (Is that a thing? Well, it is now!) This year was the year I really discovered how sociable reading can actually be. From the outside, most people would consider reading to be a very introverted, isolated activity, but it does not have to be that way! This year I joined Goodreads, I started a blog and I really re-ignited how important and sociable reading can be! I learned that you can get involved with so many things by having bookish friends and can spend many happy hours chatting about books and the pleasure of recommending them.

According to Goodreads (how did I survive without it?!), I read 78 books in 2015 - that's 27,291 pages! That seems like an obscene amount, but by reminding myself that it was all completely voluntary, I guess it is kind of amazing! Added to that the fact that my average rating was 4/5 stars, it just shows how much I have enjoyed all (or maybe, most) of the books I devoured this year!

So, I think the easiest way to pick the highlights of the year is to do a top 10! My strategy for this was to just write down the first 10 books that came to mind when I look back over the year. Seemed like as good a strategy as any!

So here we have 2015 top 10!

10) Us - David Nicholls 
Waterstones' marketing strategy worked well here...this as an impulse buy that I bought at the till. Believe it or not, this was the first David Nicholls book I have ever read and I really loved it. It put such an interesting twist on a normal love story as it was written from the man's perspective! (Just consider for a second how rare that actually is.) The main character was so endearing and it was a joy to read!

9) The Way You Look Tonight - Richard Madeley
Aaaand this was a case where marketing didn't go so well! I think Madeley has made a huge mistake with the cover of this book! Let's be clear, it is most definitely a crime novel, but I would forgive you for assuming that it were a trashy romance novel, given the cover! In fact, I even saw it in the romance section of one Waterstones store! The problem is, crime novels invariably have a lot of black on the cover! I was intrigued by this book though, in one of my sessions where I spend hours in book shops reading the blurb of books that I normally wouldn't pick up - trying to challenge my 'judging a book by its cover' habit. I am so glad I did, because the plot is so full of suspense and intrigue and it just amazing! I have since given this book to my Mum, who loved it so much she wants to read his next novel! So seriously...go and pick this book up! Don't judge this book by its cover, give it a go!

8) Intrusion - Ken Macleod
I really do need to read more SciFi, as this book was a great example of how fab it can be! I am a sucker for a book with good (and accurate) scientific references, (yes, I am a geek!), so this book had me hooked very early on. The story of a future world where all genetic defects can be eradicated with a pill. But...who decides what is a defect and what is a genetic advantage? When the lines are blurry, one woman fights to save the genetic diversity of her child. Such a thought-provoker!

7) The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
Okay I am sorry, I am sure you are completely sick of hearing from me about this book, but it is just amazing. It is one of those books you can't help but just want to give to everyone you know and wait for them to finish so you can both hype about how amazing it is! It is an amazingly written story of a boy suffering with schizophrenia from Filer, who has witnessed the effects first-hand. A real page-turner which can very easily be devoured in one sitting!

6) The Bourne Original Trilogy - Robert Ludlum
I have always been a big believer in reading the book before I watch a film, so when my boyfriend said that I had to watch the Bourne films, I decided to read the books first and ordered the first three online. They seemed like a good place to start as they are the only ones written by the original author, Robert Ludlum, as far as I understand. When they arrived, I couldn't believe how long they are - seriously, these books are monsters! So they sat on my bookshelf for a very long time. However when I had a few weeks spare before going back to uni, I decided to attack them. It is the mark of a fantastic book that they kept me completely hooked throughout all three of the monsters! They were so fantastically written, with suspense and plot twists everywhere! Oh, and also....just in case you didn't know, the plots of the books are entirely different to those of the films! I don't understand why the person with the film rights decided to do that, but okay! At least now the films will still hold some mystery for me!

5) The Accident - CL Taylor
Most of the crime I read is focused around spies or government conspiracies or big murderers or drug cartels. This was the first book in a long time that I read and was about one mother trying to solve the mystery of her daughter's coma. Much more of a localised crime story and I was right there along with her, feeling the frustration as she hit dead ends and the excitement with every success! A really great book!

4) Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
Yes, yes, regular readers of my blog will once again sigh at the shameless name-dropping of Matt Haig, who features in almost every blog I write. I can't help it, I just love him. I had read The Humans (stay tuned) before this, which I absolutely love, but it wasn't until I read this that I loved Matt Haig as a person. The bravery and cut-throat honesty displayed in the writing of this book is just astounding. He gives an account of his struggle with anxiety and depression, as well as glimmers of hope and advice for anyone who suffers themselves or has loved ones who are suffering. It really is just perfection and I will never cease to applaud Haig for writing it.

3) The Humans - Matt Haig
I told you to stay tuned! Like I have said, I loved 'The Humans'. In some ways, it is quite similar to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - how would you explain to aliens what it is to be human? Well, I thought I knew until Matt Haig threw this book into the mix! His 'outside', alien perspective on human life is funny, endearing and thought-provoking - just WOW. I am sure this book will stay with me for a very long time.

2) The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Yes, I am a bit behind the times on reading this one, but luckily my A-Z challenge of 2015 gave me the push I needed to pick up my copy and give it a read. It deserves such a high status on this list because it is the only book I remember which has given me such a strong emotional reaction not only whilst reading it, but for hours and possibly even days after! It truly was a 'book hangover' - I wouldn't recommend reading it before going to an Ed Sheeran concert, like I did! PS...the imagery alone is a work of literary masterpiece!

1) The Fate of Ten - Pittacus Lore
Ohhhh these books!! I am so obsessed with this series and cannot believe it is as little-known as it is because it is just incredible! It is the only series since Harry Potter for which I eagerly await the release of the next instalment each year! They never ever disappoint! The suspense and the drama and the action and the love and the destruction...just - GAH! READ THEM!

So, that is my 2015 year of books! From now on I am going to try and be a bit better at reviewing my favourite books on here. I would love to take-on another challenge in 2016, to add to the A-Z challenge I did in 2015, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know in the comments below!