The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan – Book Review

gracekeepers What can be said about The Gracekeepers that hasn’t already been said? Nothing much… Everyone already knows how beautiful it is, and has shouted it from the rooftops, so I’m finding it hard to put into words how much I think you should read this book… But I want to throw my two cents in! I’ll try, because I just want to share my love of it with anyone who will listen. Seriously.

Keep on reading to find out why I loved this book so much.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future. Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

The Gracekeepers is set in a post-apocalyptic world which is mostly covered in water. Those who live at sea are called damplings, and it is the landlockers who reside on the expensive but sparse islands that are dotted around what’s left of the planet. The mixing of damplings and landlockers is simply unheard of, other than those times when they must trade or entertain to survive, so the meeting of our two heroines is unlikely – until it happens, and their lives change forever. 07-08-2015 018

Through the burdened Gracekeeper Callanish, she who buries the dampling deceased, and North, a girl with a bear and a growing secret who travels from island to island with a floating circus, we come to know of love, loss, and life in this new world. North and her circus family must wear bells on their ankles when on the islands, Callanish is far away from her home island in the Graceyards, surrounded by water. North and Callanish’s lives must undergo drastic changes, for one those changes are thrust upon her, for the other 07-08-2015 025she must choose for herself.

The Gracekeepers is narrated by interchanging characters with each chapter. While it is mostly told by our two heroines, Callanish and North, we also get the perspectives of supporting characters – I found this to give a greater insight into the world and story Logan has created, as well as the two main characters from outside of their own viewpoints. While I can’t say that had the novel been told only from the two points of view it wouldn’t have worked, I did feel as though it kept the narration exciting. It was a great choice by Kirsty Logan, her mastery of those voices is impeccable. I’d be happy to read more from this world, even without North and Callanish, if it meant characters like Red Gold, Flitch, and Melia were telling us about their little big lives.

07-08-2015 029The characters in this book are just sublime. The names are interesting and memorable enough, but they themselves are open and raw enough to make you fall in love with them very quickly. Most of them, at least. I’ve never felt so connected to characters in a book before as I did with Callanish and North, not so intensely or so quickly. I could gush all day, really.

The Gracekeepers is quite melancholy in a slow, mournful way, while at the same time being beautifully uplifting, and heart-opening. I will admit that it was kind of slow paced, the only thing compelling me to pick it up was how beautiful the writing was, not an urgency to find out what happens next. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just ended up enjoying it slower than I expected to. Had this book been rushed it would have ruined it completely.

This is the kind of book that inspires you to write, while also making you want to give up, because you worry you’ll never write anything that comes even close to this. It’s also bloody beautiful, physically as well as lyrically that is. I wish my photographs could do it justice. The UK hardcover is flawless.  07-08-2015 022On the 10th of August, Kirsty’s new book A Portable Shelter was published in hardback by The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, limited to 1000 copies. I pre-ordered a copy and it has arrived (albeit, a day late) so look out for that review some time soon. It will be published in paperback by Vintage in due course, so if you haven’t managed to nab one of the hardbacks you will be still be able to read it, and I’m sure the paperback will be beautiful because come on, it’s Vintage.

My personal rating: 5/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.67/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Hive/Your Local Indie Book Store 🙂

Publishers: Harvill Secker, Vintage.

Publication Date: April 23rd 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @KirstyLogan

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Book Review

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I sped through Annihilation recently and wanted to share some quick thoughts about this first book in a really exciting sci-fi trilogy.

Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years.

For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.

‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. It follows four women, identified only by their job titles/roles (biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, surveyor), into a barely chartered territory – Area X. Over the past thirty years there have been multiple expeditions into Area X to try and find out exactly what happened to this land, what threat it poses to the rest of the world, and if anything can be done about it. After the failure of all previous expeditions this one, the twelfth, is narrated by the biologist who tells of the strange occurrences they encounter. Not all is as it seems though, and the biologist begins to wonder if their training was enough to prepare them for such a perilous mission.

I first heard of these books when I saw the UK publisher, 4th Estate, posting pictures of the new paperback covers. 2They’re gorgeous, they caught my eye, and had me utterly intrigued. After reading the blurb of Annihilation I tucked the desire to read them into the back of my mind until a couple of weeks later when I saw them turned out at my local indie bookshop, Pritchards. I picked the first up, remembering that I’d thought it sounded interesting, and stuck it on my TBR shelf. I’m so glad I bumped it up my agenda and decided to read it quite quickly. It’s a swift read, I rushed through it in two short sittings, and found it extremely enjoyable, if not a little creepy and unsettling.

I know I’m not an expert when it comes to the genre, but I’m certain that this is sci-fi at its best, its most compelling, and most accessible. VanderMeer’s wilderness descriptions are beautiful, eerily so when paired with a terrifying story line. It mixes psychological thriller elements with nature writing so seamlessly but I was quite shocked I enjoyed such a mix. With a lot of scientific jargon thrown in there too, I can understand if some readers don’t find it as interesting as I did, but I think the juxtaposition of objective observation with delicate depictions of nature created a nice balance. The narrating biologist is rather focused on her research yet divulges emotional insights, history, and motivations throughout the book, so this parallels quite nicely between character and setting.

A lot happens in such a short book, which made me feel quite on edge and tense while reading it. Thankfully, the tenseness only lasted for the 195 pages, otherwise I think I’d have needed a massage when I finished! The second book in the series, Authority, follows what happens immediately after the twelfth expedition into Area X back in the command centre of the government facility in charge of the whole operation. I just started reading it today and can’t wait to report back on that one too.Both

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 3.9/5. Goodreads average: 3.62/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Hive/Your Local Indie Book Store ❤

Pages: 195 (Paperback)

Publishers: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 4th February 2014

Follow the author on Twitter: @JeffVanderMeer

In Conversation with Bri – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Recently, my friend Bri and I realised that we were both reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline! She was listening to the audiobook, and I had been meaning to read it for a while. I bought a copy for my sister’s boyfriend last Christmas, but then he didn’t pick it up once. Finally, after seeing that Ernest Cline had written another book, Armada, I thought I’d finally read it myself. As Bri also has a book blog (a much better looked after one than mine, it is fantastic), we thought it would be nice to have a conversation about this book together, and cross-post it to both of our blogs. It’s quite unspoilery and I think it’d be interesting to read whether you’ve read this book or not.

First though, a little about the book:

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Usually I post reviews in order to tell you my thoughts about a book, and whether or not I think you should read it and why. It’s pretty obvious that if you’ve not read Ready Player One yet that you definitely should do… so here’s what we thought when we read it.

Bri: I listened to the audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton and I absolutely LOVED this book! I gotta say, I don’t know a ton about Wil Wheaton, so I didn’t get excited about hearing him read it as other fans would have, but he did a brilliant job. The book heavily includes things from 80s American culture, which I wasn’t as familiar with outside of John Hughes films, but I would say you could be a complete novice and still be thrilled with the pop culture references that proliferate this book. This was the first book I’ve read in a while where I tried to read more slowly because I didn’t want it to be over — definitely the most fun book I’ve read/listened to all year. What are your initial thoughts, Amy? Did you find any of the pop culture references inaccessible as a child of the 90s?

Amy: I’m happy to hear Wil Wheaton did a good job of narrating the audio book, while I know quite a bit about him I wouldn’t really call myself a fan. I’m tempted to grab the audio book myself, as I’ve recently started listening to them, but think my latest Audible credit might be better spent elsewhere as I’ve already read it, any recommendations would be appreciated! I see what you mean about the pop culture references, I understood most of the ones related to films, especially John Hughes films like you, and a couple of games, but not very much. I didn’t find it too alienating though, I enjoyed learning little bits about the ’80s, now have a list of more 80s things to look up, and felt quite excited when I understood the references. I can see why this book is popular and a cult favourite, it does play up the nostalgic feel and that’s surely why it appeals to a lot of its audience who remember when the games and films references were released. Not to mention, there are bound to be readers our age and younger who, like Halliday, Wade and the other gunters (characters in the book who are looking for Halliday’s Easter Eggs, the key to his fortune), engrossed themselves in the culture and love it for the same reason. At times I thought maybe it was a bit overkill when it came to the 80s stuff, but I suppose that’s the point. Did you think it was too much at times, or that the amount of pop culture references was about right?

Bri: I really didn’t think the pop culture references were overwhelming at all, but I did find that I kind of breezed by the references that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t really hold onto them. The only reference that intrigued me enough to want to follow up on is to watch Matthew Broderick in War Games, which I’ve somehow never seen.

With stories like this, I often find myself getting annoyed with the romance subplots because they often feel weak or over exaggerated to me, but I found that I didn’t mind this romance subplot. That’s likely because it wasn’t a huge part of the storyline, but also was believable and not just thrown in to add another layer of drama/conflict. What did you think of the romance and friendships depicted in the book?

Amy: At least something good has come out the references, hopefully you’ll enjoy War Games. Also, if you’ve not seen Fanboys which is a film written by Ernest Cline, you should definitely take the opportunity to now, it’s one of my favourite films and until recently I didn’t realise that it was the same person.

I agree with you so much on how romance subplots can feel over exaggerated. I find as I grow older that I have less and less time for extraneous romantic melodrama when a narrative is doing just fine without it. However, the romance subplot in Ready Player One was tolerable. There’s a point where the love interest, Artemis, breaks it off for a while because it is distracting (I wouldn’t consider this a major spoiler), and I really appreciated what a reasonable decision that was in the context of how high the stakes are in their quest. It seems to me quite tempting to either write drama into romantic arcs for the sake of drama, or when the climaxes of a book aren’t related to relationship issues to make subplot relationships run effortlessly and unrealistically smooth. Ernest Cline here seemed to really think through what problems two young people might face when romantically involved while also in this ridiculous situation. I don’t know about you, but I really liked Artemis, a lot more than Wade. I don’t think that a main character necessarily has to be like-able, but when there’s a character in the mix that I can really get behind that’s always good, so having Artemis and Aech to like was helpful.

I am always quite skeptical of book-to-film adaptations, with the news a few months ago that Steven Spielberg is directing the film version of Ready Player One, the ball seems to be rolling in the making of it (edit: it now has a date!). What do you think will be the major difficulties when they’re making this film?

Bri: It’s so interesting to see Aech’s name spelled out! Since I listened to the audiobook, I spelled out all of the names in my brain and I thought Aech’s name was actually just the letter H. I kept wondering how someone could have a username consisting of only one letter.

I had no idea that there were actually talks about making this into a movie, let alone that someone like Steven Spielberg was attached to direct. As fun and intriguing as I found this book, I honestly can’t picture it being successfully adapted to the big screen, especially with all of the references to other works that will definitely be difficult to incorporate because of copyright issues. If a lot of the references end up being eliminated for the big screen, I feel like part of the magic of the book will definitely disappear.

Since the book shifts from taking place in the game setting to Wade’s real world and never shows the real worlds of the other characters until much later in the book, I feel like this could affect the film negatively tonally. While this works in the book because you’re only following the mindset of Wade, I feel like this is much harder to convey and accept as a viewer of a film when you’re taking in the characters within their environments instead of specifically following a single character’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this book? This can be your parting thoughts, how it changed you as a reader, a single sentence summary of the novel, or whatever your heart desires.

Amy: I rarely think of the little differences that can occur between listening to an audiobook and reading it in print, I suppose new words, names, and general things you’ve never heard of won’t come across the same. Cline’s spelling didn’t occur to you, and it took me far too long when reading to realise it was supposed to be pronounced H.

I do love film adaptations of books, but I feel some stories are meant to be enjoyed as novels and are best left alone. Others feel differently, when they love something so much they need to experience it through as many mediums as possible. I think a film might take something away from the charm of this book. Despite its incredible popularity, it is a cult favourite, and when you’re reading it and nobody around you has heard of it you do feel a bit like you’re part of a special club. Turning it into a blockbuster movie might remove that inkling that you’re onto something great. There’s also something to be said for needing to actively play a part in the world building and having to imagine this insane simulated dimension, I found that a big part of my experience of Ready Player One was that how the OASIS looked was largely down to my interpretation of it.

Hmm… parting thoughts. I found this book to be satisfyingly immersive and really enjoyable, as far as my own reading experience goes it is quite a unique book. I’m looking forward to reading Cline’s second Armada which was published this month, though I’m worried that it will have too many similarities to be as exciting. Despite my enjoyment of Ready Player One I was occasionally drawn out of it to think about how and why it has sold so well, it seems to me that Ernie Cline knows exactly what he is doing and has played on the enthusiasm of fans of old games and films and their need to buy into or collect things. I can’t really talk though, I collect books like nobody’s business… I’m really interested to hear what you’ll be taking away from this!07-08-2015 112

Bri: While I always want to read Armada, I think I’m going to wait a few months to check it out so that I won’t be constantly comparing it to Ready Player One. Since Wil Wheaton also narrated that audiobook, I’ll probably choose to listen to this book too.

My final takeaways from reading Ready Player One is that I shouldn’t just dismiss a popular book if it takes place in a world that I don’t think I’ll appreciate. Some authors are so skilled that they can make it a fun ride for most readers, even if you don’t have the background knowledge that could ultimately make it more enjoyable.

Having a conversation like this was fun! Let’s do it again! Let us know in the comments if there are any books that you think Amy and Bri should tackle next!

Adventure Time – The Original Cartoon Title Cards (vol. 2) – Book Review

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I received an advance copy of the Adventure Time Original Cartoon Title Cards book (volume 2) from Titan Books in exchange for an honest review, and it’s out today! Read on to find out how excited I am about this book…

Adventure Time’s adorably weird and wonderful post-apocalyptic world has captured the hearts of fans worldwide.

Featuring all the title cards from seasons 3 and 4 of the show, plus early sketches, creator commentary, and exclusive insights into the vast and varied inspirations behind the art, the second volume of Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards is an absolute must-have for every fan.

So back in September of 2014, Titan Books published the first volume of the Adventure Time Title Cards books. I saw it and was really looking forward to reading it, but unfortunately forgot to pick it up. Fast-forward to my birthday in February, and a friend of mine who seems to know me very well bought it for me as a present, and boy was I elated. Perfect gift.

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The first volume focuses on the first two seasons of the book, and the new one out today covers season three and four. They follow the same format – two pages per episode, one page printed with the title card for each episode, the other with a sketch or early version of the title card, and an explanation of its design, as well as a strange out of context quote that only makes sense if you’ve seen the episode.

“Wait, wait, wait Amy. Hold up” I hear you saying. “What’s a title card? What’s Adventure Time? …”

Oh yes, sorry! I’ll rewind a little bit. So if you’ve not heard of Adventure Time yet, I’m not sure where you’ve been… Adventure Time is a ‘children’s’ cartoon, shown on Cartoon Network in the UK, which has been running since 2010. It’s about a young boy called Finn and his dog, Jake. It’s funny, endearing, original, and most definitely not just for children – adults all around the world have come to love it too. A bit like Disney, it’s fun for all ages. I’ve been watching Adventure Time for about four years or so now, and something which has always intrigued me has been the title cards.

As the books explain in more detail, each episode is preceded by a hand painted ‘title card’, a glimpse of what’s to come in the episode, and they don’t stay on screen for very long so you may sometimes struggle to get a good look at them. These books remedy that, you have all the time in the world to enjoy the title cards for what they really are – another form of art, and another medium of telling the stories that Pendleton Ward and his team of writers spin in this show. They’re beautiful, sometimes haunting, and often stray from the very distinct, cheery, recognisable drawing style that Adventure Time usually uses. These books collect them all in one place for your perusal, quite handy! You can have a look at some of the season 3 & 4 title cards in this Buzzfeed article, but I’d suggest picking the book up so that you can flip through, enjoy the explanations, and see them all.

2These books have helped me re-live episodes I’ve not seen in a couple of years, and compelled me at times to go back and pick out my favourite ones to watch again. My niece, who watched it as a baby simply because the colours fascinated her, is getting to an age now where she might start to appreciate the story line too, and I’m itching to get back, so I’ll have to begin it all again and experience it once more, this time understanding the intentions behind the title cards at the beginning!

To be honest, I was worried that the second volume, being in the same format as the first, would get a bit boring and samey. Why should you spend the extra money to read another one? Thankfully, my fears were assuaged when I realised that the second is just as interesting and insightful into the process of creating the title cards and the show as a whole. The humour is still there, and there’s also a sense of growing creativity. There are some new artists in seasons 3 & 4, and you can definitely see how they all brought something extra to the designs.

3Since reading the first volume thoroughly when I received it, I have flicked through and enjoyed it a few times since: the art is sublime and worth going back to again and again. I definitely expect to feel the same about volume 2, and the title cards of season 3 and 4. Both volumes of the Adventure Time Title Cards books are beautiful, the quality of the paper and printing makes it easy to justify the price, and make a nice addition to a collection.

The thing about having interests like Adventure Time, something rather nerdy or geeky so to speak, is that it does take you back to feeling as excited as a child, while appreciating the art as an adult. As a child you want to collect everything to do with your favourite things, and this urge seems to have carried through to adulthood. There’s a massive amount of merchandise around for Adventure Time, from clothing, figures, Pop Vinyl, plushes, the comic series, and more, as well as handmade, non-official merchandise that’s always hanging around the internet. If you’re into collecting things and into Adventure Time, this is a no-brainer. Not only are they gorgeous, they enhance your enjoyment of the show. Who can say no?

My verdict on this not so traditional book is: buy it if you are a fan, and if you’ve ever been curious about the title card. I’d also suggest it as a present for someone who loves the show, old or young. I received the first one as a gift and have benefited from this present many times over! I’d definitely recommend gifting them as a pair, and starting off their new collection.

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My personal rating: 5/5. It upholds the high standard I’ve come to expect from Adventure Time merchandise, and from Titan Books. It met all expectations and I don’t think I could have asked for anything more.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Your Local Indie Book Store 🙂 priced £14.99

Add it to your Goodreads shelves here!

Pages: 92 (Hardcover)

Publishers: Titan Books

Publication Date: 7th August 2015 (today!)

So are you an Adventure Time fan, or do you think you might like to watch it? Have you read the first Title Card book or planning on picking these volumes up? Let me know in the comments below!

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham – Book Review

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This is another book that I picked up a while ago and then put down and had to convince myself to read. My best friend knew I’d like it and lent it to me on New Year’s Eve. I started it on the train home from her flat the next day… and then life happened, and other books happened, and I picked it up again last week.

Not That Kind of Girl (A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”) by Lena Dunham

From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today.

In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.

Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”

I am the kind of feminist who will absolutely adore other feminists, famous feminists, famous successful feminists who can show me how it’s done. I love them. And so Lena Dunham was a woman whose book I was bound to be reading eventually. I watched the first season of Girls and enjoyed it in a round-about way, but it also bugged me. It sort of pointed out to me that these successful feminists, the ones I adore, can be actually quite problematic. Lena Dunham’s feminism isn’t always something I can get behind, her take on female empowerment and showcasing what is like to be a woman it’s something I likely will not agree with whenever she pops up on my radar. There’s no “all or nothing” with feminism, and I think what I want to point out before really delving into a review of this book is that Lena Dunham is not perfect, but (thankfully) none of us are.

I’m not going to get into a big debate about her feminism, my feminism, Caitlin Moran’s feminism, and how nobody’s views are the same despite the same umbrella term linking us. That’s a blog post for another day, I think. What I can get behind, however, is a woman telling her story, telling many stories about herself, making the conversation about herself as a woman, and talking about her experiences. No matter how weird or alien they are to me or you, no matter how they’re not particularly representative of every woman. When a woman’s writing a memoir, an autobiography, a collection of personal essays, you can’t turn around and say “yeah but what about me?” or “what about people who have a different background to you?” Because while all of our voices are valid and deserve a platform – this is her book about herself.

When she writes a book about other women or women in general feel free to raise your hand, and raise your voice. When she has a show on HBO called Girls that is full of middle-to-upper-class white women and no diversity at all then yeah, call her out on that shit. Right now? If you’re picking up this book, it’s time to listen, and your criticisms can be based on other things. If you don’t want to read about Lena Dunham’s super white, privileged life, do not read this book – it will make you angry and you kind of only have yourself to blame – you know what is coming. For the most part, I think feminism is about other women and not necessarily talking about yourself but letting others speak. However at this point, I’m ready to let Lena Dunham speak if it means that other women are going to follow her lead and talk about themselves, and talk about how much they dislike Lena Dunham, and how she’s wrong, and how the world treats them as women, as women of colour, as trans women, as lesbian women, as bi-sexual women, and women who identify in any way, as women no matter what. For now though, I have made the choice to pick up Not That Kind of Girl and as that was my choice, I’m going to review it as I would any other book.

So now that that is out of the way… how did I feel about Not That Kind of Girl? I felt pretty good about it, actually. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much, but I did. Lena Dunham’s world is so far from mine: she grew up, and continues to be, extremely privileged (albeit she had her own difficulties which are illuminating to read about). I have my own privileges that I am appreciative of, but reading this book was a bit of a reminder of all the things I do not have. Though reading about them didn’t really make me miss them, or feel resentful, it was sort of just an eye-opener to a different kind of existence that (to me) seems quite fictional until it’s written down in a non-fiction book.

There’s little I can write about this book in regards to plot, it literally is just a collection of essays about Lena’s life, her struggles with mental health, her time at university and her family. There are enjoyable short chapters that are basically lists of things she’s learned, emails she has sent, emails she would like to send, everything she eats over a period of time. She has a very brazen and straight-forward writing style that doesn’t leave you questioning whether this really happened the way she says it did, which is ridiculous because there’s no way that it’s all true – she has a confidence that her writing clearly depicts events accurately and it rubs off when you’re reading it. Of course there’s going to be a bias there, and of course she’s an unreliable narrator, but from the way she writes, you really can’t tell.

Lena Dunham is weird, and her memories are weird, and she’s a woman. And with this book she’s, at least a little bit, breaking down the barriers of how perfect girls and women are supposed to be. Because we’re all weird. We all have weird experiences that most of us are scared to write down in a private journal let alone in a book that’s going to sell thousands of copies worldwide. She’s a public figure and she just laid out all of her weirdness for us to pick through and criticise and write about without actually knowing her as a person, just knowing the bits of her she’s willing to share, which seems to be all of it, though I imagine it is not. She says that sharing herself is not brave because it does not scare her. Nonetheless, I found it quite inspiring.

I think this is the kind of book you can speed through really easily, or have it sitting around and dive in and out to enjoy a little bit at a time. That kind of reading experience may suit those who aren’t going to find it easy with Lena Dunham’s voice in your head a few hours at a time. I read the first couple of chapters sporadically so that I didn’t wear myself out on her, but then read the rest all in one go and didn’t enjoy it any less.

Sure, her feminism is one-sided. Sure, I do find the whole ‘feel sorry for me and my problems’ thing coming from a very privileged person very boring and over-done and completely irrelevant. But if you expect anything else from this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, and why are you even thinking about reading it? Just to annoy yourself? Don’t waste your time if you’ll know you’ll hate it, just so that you can give it a one star review on Goodreads! Read something you’ll like instead. Come on. As far as expectations, and context go, this book was more than I imagined it would be, and for this reason I’m giving it a respectable four stars. 

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 3.9/5. Goodreads average: 3.36/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Pages: 365 (Hardcover)

Publishers: Fourth Estate

Publication Date: 30th September 2014

Follow the author on Twitter: @LenaDunham

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – Book Review

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I’ve never read a novel quite like this. It’s intriguing, mysterious, and its slow pace is less boring than realistic – it reminds you painfully of the memory loss its main character is struggling with. I read this novel a month ago, and when recommending it in a bookstore today, I realised that I actually hadn’t written my review yet. Thankfully, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind, so read on for the review!

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

This novel is about an elderly woman and her struggle to find answers to a question that nobody will seem to listen to. Her friend, Elizabeth, is missing. She can’t find her anywhere, and she knows something is wrong, but can’t remember what it is. Her search is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that she is losing her memory, but some things are coming back to her – over fifty years after they happened. They may not help her find Elizabeth, but her search for her best friend may help her understand a mystery that should have been solved decades ago.

Maud is a lovely bundle of a character. I want to hug her, I want to sit and drink tea with her, and most of all I want to help her. When you’re picking up things that she observes but later doesn’t remember it takes a little less time to figure out what happened to Elizabeth than it does for Maud herself. At times this can be a little bit annoying, but I think in quite an intentional way. The frustration you feel really does emulate the frustrations you can feel when in this situation in real life – when your brain forms connections between memories that a loved one simply cannot, you do have to be patient and try and understand, no matter how hard this is. On top of this all is a really charming sense of humour that had me laughing, Maud is hilarious.

I can’t lie, as well as laugh this novel made me cry, it really struck a chord with me. From a young age I watched my grandma struggle with Alzheimer’s for years until the day she died, and my nan is currently beginning to show signs of having to live with dementia. Not only did it remind me of all of the horrible things my grandma went through, it also highlighted what my nan might currently be feeling. It gives an insight into the way the minds of people with dementia may actually work, in a painful but illuminating way. 

I think what’s important is that this really important message doesn’t have to make up for any terrible story-line or lack of plot. There is plenty to find interesting and compelling in this book. There are, essentially, two mysteries that are solved by the end of Elizabeth Is Missing. They just take a while to come about, and it’s more the journey towards those realisations that is the most enjoyable part. It’s one of the slowest-paced mystery novels I’ve ever encountered, yet it’s written in such an endearing way that it does not take away from how thrilling it can be. What I can tell you is how fast I read it (very) because I was dying to find out what happened next on every single page.  

All the feels. That’s pretty much what happened with this novel. It has had really great commercial success and quite rightly – Emma Healey really knows how to make you feel something. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a quick but meaningful read. I’m currently in two minds about whether or not to suggest my mum reads it, because I think the personal issues may hit her even harder than they did me. Has anyone else read this book? How did it make you feel?

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.75/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Penguin.

Publication Date: January 1st 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @ECHealey

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Book Review

15745753 This is a bit of an old one! And by that I mean it’s two years old, which is old for YA. Seemingly though, everyone has read it. At least that may make for some interesting discussion. So… read on for the review and then let me know whether you agree or disagree.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

Two misfits. One extraordinary love. Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

I started this book a month ago, and really should have finished it a month ago too. It’s a quick easy read – for some reason I just got a bit distracted and picked up something else. I liked this book. I didn’t love it, which is a bit disappointing because everyone seems to love it. I can see why, but it just didn’t appeal to me on that level. It didn’t capture me the way Fangirl did (click for my review!), and that might be because of the age of the characters. I couldn’t really relate to it because at that time in my life I didn’t have this burning desire, this stereotypically all-consuming young love that Eleanor and Park have for each other. It’s charming, but to me it seems unrealistic, simply because that stuff wasn’t important to me at the tender (and painful) age of sixteen.

I understand that to other teenagers relationships and sex (and everything in between) are rather prominent, and that may be why they love this book – or perhaps they didn’t experience it either and want to, or wish they had. Don’t get me wrong, Eleanor & Park isn’t just about a relationship, it’s not just about sex (or the things in between). And I suppose that fact feeds into the things I did appreciate about this speedy read.

It addresses domestic violence, albeit in a singular and simplistic way. The effects of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, are shown on the children and it highlights (just one side of) what a ‘broken family’ can be, and the often unwritten consequences (at least within contemporary literature) of poverty on a young person. I also really did like the dynamic of Park’s family – the identity questions that Park’s dual heritage brings about in him as a teenage boy, and how his parents’ different upbringings informed his character, their’s, and their interactions. It was also quite nice to experience this story of teenage love in a decade in which I wasn’t around. I found it easy to picture this all rolling out on a big screen like a John Hughes movie.

Overall, Eleanor & Park is a pleasant enough novel, but I found it lacking in too many ways for me to ever imagine wanting to read it again. While there were plenty of interesting plot points I felt as though nothing really happened and Rainbow Rowell didn’t utilise the story’s potential to make it feel like something was really happening, or that any of it really mattered, because to me, as an adult (sort of) I know that what Eleanor was obsessing about the whole time is less pressing than she makes it out to be. After a while, it got a bit tiring. You know, the whole ‘touching’ thing, the ‘his lips’ thing, the ‘he’s so cute’ thing. Maybe because at seventeen, I remember life being about a lot more than a cute boy touching my waist and thinking my quirks were cool (to be honest, they weren’t, they were just… quirks). I do intend to read Rainbow’s Landline and Attachments. They’re supposed to be about adults right? Maybe I’ll like them, because I’m totally an adult now… I think.

My personal rating: 3/5. Amazon average: 4.5/5. Goodreads average: 4.16/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Pages: 328

Publishers: Orion

Publication Date: February 26th 2013

Follow the author on Twitter: @RainbowRowell

Have you read this book? You probably have. I know this may be an unpopular opinion (or a grouping of unpopular opinions) about this book that already seems to be considered a YA romance classic. Let me know what you think!